George Clooney turns off his movie-star charm for much of “The Midnight Sky,” a futuristic adventure he stars in and directed. He plays Augustine Lofthouse, a scientist who, as the movie begins — in 2049, “3 weeks after the event,” a deliberately vague onscreen text puts it — has lived to become something of a prophet.
Not that it’s going to do him, or anybody else on Earth, any good. The “event,” which we learn has resulted in deadly radiation blanketing the world, is on track to kill all life here. Lofthouse is stationed at a scientific outpost in the Arctic. As his colleagues evacuate, to who knows where, he determines to stay put. Because it’s only from here that he has a chance to contact a spaceship headed back to Earth, to tell it not to land.
This spaceship has completed a mission to a moon of Jupiter — one that Lofthouse, years before, picked as a potential spot for supporting life if and when Earth became uninhabitable.
Alone in the high-tech quarters, Lofthouse, a stolid, stoic figure whose face is framed by an expansive but not inordinately unruly beard, signals to the ship, seemingly in vain. He also administers his own blood transfusions. These efforts are interrupted when he discovers he’s not alone. An adorable and seemingly mute young girl, who announces herself as “Iris” by way of a drawing of some flowers, is with him. She’s played by the notably luminescent newcomer Caoilinn Springall.
They take to each other, and she manages to loosen up the scientist just a little. She even accompanies and helps him when they have to travel north to a facility with a stronger antenna. In the meantime, the spaceship is en route to Earth with glad tidings — the Jupiter moon is, in fact, inhabitable.
Adapted by Mark L. Smith from the novel “Good Morning, Midnight” by Lily Brooks-Dalton, “The Midnight Sky” is, as you can see, a real everything-but-the-kitchen-sink science-fiction saga. The only thing missing is an evil alien or malevolent extraterrestrial organism, but that would not be germane. As a cinematic storyteller (“Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” and “Good Night, and Good Luck” were his earliest directorial efforts), Clooney always hews to Alexander Pope’s adage “the proper study of mankind is man.” In this scenario, humanity is the architect of its own destruction and agent of its own salvation.
As cinematic spectacle, “Sky” is impressive. Clooney has seen and learned from some good stuff — “2001,” sure, but also the lesser-known “Silent Running.” The innovative and coherent production design by Jim Bissell beautifully simulates a near-future world. As narrative, the movie is more of a mixed bag. The first hour, toggling between Clooney’s travails on our planet and the fraught return flight of the ship — whose crew is played by, among others, David Oyelowo, Felicity Jones and Kyle Chandler — is commendably tight and tense. The second half is more frayed, with some glaring implausibilities. But for the movie’s finale, Jones and Clooney pull out the stops for an exchange that, implausibilities be damned, is genuinely tear-jerking.
The Midnight Sky
Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hours 2 minutes. Watch on Netflix.
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