George Clooney directs and stars in this quiet, unsensational and extremely thoughtful Netflix adaptation of Lily Brooks-Dalton’s 2016 novel Good Morning, Midnight. The Cloonster, sporting a luxurious grey beard, plays scientist Augustine Lofthouse, living with terminal cancer and eking out his last days at a remote research facility in the Arctic in 2049, a few weeks after an unspecified cataclysm has wiped out life on Earth and left the planet an irradiated, uninhabitable wasteland. He sets about trying to contact any extant space missions to advise them of the fate that’s befallen the Earth and eventually makes contact with the Aether, a ship returning from a mission to explore one of Jupiter’s habitable moons. But his radio equipment is too weak for his signal to properly reach the ship – its crew includes Iris Sullivan (Felicity Jones), Commander Adewole (David Oyelowo), and Mitchell (Kyle Chandler) – so he sets off across the hostile, wild Arctic landscape to reach another base where he hopes he will find a more powerful antenna. Accompanying him on the trip is a young girl he finds on the base, apparently left behind during its emergency evacuation.
There’s a grim irony in the arrival of a slew of apocalyptic films at the end of a long, bleak year in which the real world has been far more challenging and worrying than that any work of fiction. The Midnight Sky might be too uncomfortable for many in the current and enduring climate but this is a film that is unconcerned with hollow spectacle and cheap, lurid thrills; The Midnight Sky is a low-key, contemplative story that offers up a desperate, hopeless scenario and manages to imbue it with a real sense of the enduring spirit of humanity even in the face of utter extinction. The grizzled Clooney cuts an exhausted figure, limping around the deserted Arctic base with only the hope of reaching out into space keeping him alive. But the discovery of the girl, unwilling or unable to speak, seems to give him the strength he needs to push on despite his weakening strength and failing health.
The Midnight Sky is an unfussy, often ponderous film punctuated by a couple of thrilling set pieces – Clooney and the girl almost come to grief out on the ice and a dangerous space walk to repair meteor damage to the Aether is heart-stopping stuff – but it’s an absorbing, contemplative, beautifully-directed piece that asks its audience to stick with it as it builds towards a climax that’s both hugely emotional and surprisingly uplifting.