Young Dr. Augustine Lofthouse (Ethan Peck) devoted all his time working to prove his hypothesis that K-23, a newly-discovered moon of Jupiter with its own self-contained heating mechanism, was a prime candidate to possess the ideal conditions necessary to sustain human life. His obsession with this passion project of his had led to sacrificing his relationship with his wife Jean (Sophie Rundle).
The Aether Mission K23 under its commander Gordon Adewole (David Oyelowo) had been sent to K23 to study it closely. The crew consisted of Captain Mitchell (Kyle Chandler), two mission specialists Sully (Felicity Jones) and Sanchez (Demian Bichir), and their young flight engineer Maya (Tiffany Boone). After two years, Aether had completed their mission and was finally flying on their way back to Earth.
Meanwhile back in Barbeau Observatory in the Arctic Circle, a mass evacuation of staff was being conducted for a yet undisclosed reason. Determined to see his project through to the end, old, weak and ill Dr. Augustine (George Clooney) opted to stay behind to await word from and communicate with the Aether. One day, Augustine discovered that there was a mute little girl named Iris (Caoillin Springall) who had been left behind with him.
In its core, this film, adapted from Lily Brooks-Dalton's 2016 novel "Good Morning, Midnight," was more of a serious melodrama than it was serious sci-fi. Director George Clooney decided to tell his story going back and forth in time from three settings (the Arctic, the Aether and Augustine's youth), which could be confusing at the start and cause momentum to lag at times.
Clooney and the rest of his cast generally gave restrained performances. He had touching moments interacting with child actress Springall, especially those tough snowbound scenes of Augustine bringing Iris from the observatory to the weather station. The dramatic highlight was that final radio conversation between Clooney and Jones, where she related what inspired her to become an astronaut. Jones's real life pregnancy was also worked into the story with meaningful effect.
Maybe since I had already seen it done too often, the space walk here in "The Midnight Sky" just did not feel that special anymore. However, the use of the pop classic "Sweet Caroline" and the rendering of blood droplets in that scene did add some favorable points with me.
While it may feel like an extended coda of the Netflix space melodrama series "Away," its inherent call and advocacy for environmental protection still did come across as urgent.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."