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‘Midnight Sky’ has everything it needs except for focus

Arts & Entertainment

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“Midnight Sky” has a lot going for it. The story is compelling. The cast gives some excellent performances. The film is full of fantastic visuals, tense sequences and emotional moments. So why did it leave me feeling so cold and empty?

Based on the novel “Good Morning, Midnight” by Lily Brooks-Dalton, “Midnight Sky” introduces us to Augustine Lofthouse (George Clooney, who also directed), a scientist involved in searching for worlds that can support human life. After a mysterious catastrophe, Augustine stays behind at a communications base. All alone, or so he thinks.

Soon, Augustine discovers he’s sharing the base with a young girl named Iris (Caoilinn Springall). Unable to establish contact with astronauts aboard the spaceship Aether, Augustine takes Iris on a dangerous journey to a more powerful communications array. Meanwhile, Sully (Felicity Jones) and the rest of the Aether crew struggle with obstacles blocking the way home to Earth.

Though it borrows a lot of ideas from other better movies, the story “Midnight Sky” is telling does have some good hooks. Stories about mankind facing its end are usually pretty easy to get wrapped up in. The mystery surrounding the fate of Earth in this film creates an almost irresistible need to get to the bottom of things.

The mystery isn’t really what this movie is about, however. This movie is more about finding the motivation to do what is required of you. It’s that thread of the story where “Midnight Sky” shines. Clooney’s performance is quiet and subtle and perfect for what this movie needs. Seeing a man already on death’s doorstep gather what strength he has left to try to save others is inspiring.

Clooney isn’t the only member of this cast that puts in some good work. Jones is also very good. Kyle Chandler and Demian Bichir share the most emotional scene in the movie and they crush it.

The movie also has some terrific imagery. The wide vista of landscapes, both on Earth and on alien worlds, are beautiful, vibrant and a treat for the eyes. There’s a spectacular spacewalk scene. Perhaps the best image in the whole movie involves wolves sneaking through wind-blown snow like grey ghosts.

I also have to mention Alexandre Desplat and his musical score. It’s restrained and not overblown yet it plays the emotions of the story beautifully.

That said, “Midnight Sky” feels like it’s missing something. While there are ample opportunities to pluck at your heartstrings, this movie misses most of them. There’s a reveal at the end of the film that had the potential to draw some tears, but it’s not effectively set up and falls flat. The only emotional moment that really works is the aforementioned scene between Chandler and Bichir.

Worse still, Sully gives a monologue toward the end that sounds less like something we need to know that builds the characters and seems intended to stroke Clooney’s ego as a filmmaker. And while Clooney’s direction here is perfectly functional and sturdy, it doesn’t do anything outstanding, aside from giving his actors space.

But I think the biggest disappointment about “Midnight Sky” is that it does feel like there’s a pretty good, emotionally fulfilling movie in there that we don’t get to see. I don’t think it would be that hard to get to that movie, either. By focusing on the Augustine and Iris storyline, you could deepen those characters and their relationship, make the flashback scenes, obviously intended to explain Augustine’s state of mind, more relevant and build to a much more satisfying conclusion. That’s the movie I want to see.

“The Midnight Sky” has some great acting, beautiful visuals and engrossing scenes. But its lack of narrative focus undercuts what could have been a much more meaningful, powerful story. It’s a good effort but ultimately feels more hollow than it should.

2 ½ Indy Fedoras out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG-13