These days, the new blockbuster “The Midnight Sky” has been launched on Netflix. The feature film with and by George Clooney sees itself as big cinema for the small screen. And yet you can’t shake the clammy feeling that director George Clooney has put on a pair of shoes that are a size too big for him.
George Clooney is a man with a mission. Not just in real life. Once again, in the feature film The Midnight Sky, nothing less than the future of humanity, or of what we think of as humanity, is at stake.
“The Midnight Sky” by and with George Clooney
To put it bluntly, George Clooney as a director puts film actor George Clooney on the spot for the second time after Unusual Heroes (The Monuments Men) with this film, his sixth directorial effort. Or, more appropriate to the location of the action: in the deep snow.
George Clooney made his television acting debut in 1978. He gained wide notoriety in his role as Dr. Doug Ross on the series Emergemcy Room, (ER) from 1994 to 1999, for which he received two Primetime Emmy Award nominations.
George Clooney made his first appearances in the cinema in From Dusk till Dawn (1996) and with Out of Sight (1998). In 1999, he took the lead role in Three Kings, a war satire. 2001 was the year of his greatest commercial success with the remake of Ocean's Eleven, a trilogy starring Clooney.
In 2002, he directed himself for the first time in the spy comedy Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Since then, he followed up with the historical drama Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), Leatherheads (2008), The Ides of March (2011), and The Monuments Men (2014). [mehr ...]
If the main actor hadn’t been behind the camera as a director himself, you’d have to feel sorry for him. As a viewer, one wonders if the main actor Clooney is so often silent in this film only because the director also had nothing to say, or tell.
More silent than George Clooney in The Midnight Sky is only the little girl at his side. Why, too, remains a secret of the director. Kind of like the little girl motif in the movie in the first place. Because not only the main actor Clooney in the Arctic, but also the female lead, magnificently embodied by Felicity Jones, is in parallel in space with a little girl. Her child doesn’t speak either. At least here it’s clear why: the pregnant mother carries the child under her heart, instead of on her arm through blizzards like Clooney.
The fact that choosing the right film role for a Hollywood star is far more difficult than is commonly thought is one side of the coin. A screenplay may be good to read. But that doesn’t make for a good movie. This is especially true when a story is based on a well-known novel. With such film adaptations, the director bears a very special responsibility.
The other side of the coin: On Netflix’s The Midnight Sky, the filmmaker’s name is George Clooney. The man’s an old hand. He must therefore know what many outsiders only suspect: Whoever directs a feature film is responsible for the story from A to Z – and thus also for the screenplay. The writer, as harsh as it sounds, is a vicarious agent of the director.
Setting up a script to shoot is a euphemism for: Rewrite, rewrite and rewrite again. Because in the film business, and especially for screenplays, you can’t make a tasty cake out of dirt! Icing and a dazzling baker can’t override that premise. There’s no quarter given.
“The Midnight Sky” – a basic fallacy?
Still, George Clooney and Netflix are subject to a colossal basic error with this film. The Midnight Sky wants to show as a feature film what no one has seen before. A blockbuster for the big cinema may, it must even with the genre science fiction pursue this goal.
Clooney, however, puts The Midnight Sky up as an Oscar recommendation for star George Clooney, as filmed stage theater for a top-notch ensemble. That’s a decision you can make. But then it must be a matter of thinking what no one has yet thought about what everyone sees!
Another stumbling block with The Midnight Sky is the strategy of using parallel plots to drive the message home to the audience. On the one hand, it’s about Augustine (George Clooney), a cancer-stricken researcher who witnesses an imagined but unspecified end of the world. On the other hand, it’s about a spaceship approaching Earth, which has been hit by a global catastrophe, and whose crew can’t guess that landing on their home planet will be fatal for them.
I honestly wasn’t sure if I would really succeed at those two jobs, both acting and directing.
Telling two stories at once in one film is harder than you think. Film students fail at this just as regularly as seasoned screenwriters.
For a parallel storyline like The Midnight Sky to work, three factors are especially important: first, each story must be compelling on its own merits. Second, both storylines must necessarily reinforce each other. And, this is both craft and the greatest difficulty, the timing of the switch between the two plot lines is exceedingly crucial.
George Clooney as director
George Clooney as director fails on two of those three specifications with The Midnight Sky. His latest film is made up of building blocks that are too flimsy on their own to be convincing. At the same time, the changes between the scenes constantly give the impression that they are meant to conceal the plot’s weaknesses.
|Drehbuch||Mark L. Smith|
|Produzent||Greg Baxter, George Clooney|
Where in a classic blockbuster at the climax of the dramaturgical arc within the story tension is once again built up with a parallel plot, George Clooney blithely continues to tell his story into irrelevance. As a director, he looks neither to the left nor to the right. The result, for the most part, is unfortunately a movie that is surprisingly bored for Netflix.
Despite a highly aesthetic realization, German cinematographer Martin Ruhe’s superb visuals are no match for director George Clooney’s anemic and ultimately uninspired execution. Thus, with The Midnight Sky with Lichtenberg, one must soberly conclude once again in this lean year of cinema: Where a monkey looks in the mirror, no philosopher looks back out of it.
The failure of The Midnight Sky with and by George Clooney is infuriating. And unnecessarily at that! In the film’s initial situation, all the ingredients are present that a compelling feature film in this genre requires: The characters’ options for action are limited and continue to narrow as the story progresses. There is also a lot of time pressure for the characters to find a solution to a deadly danger.
With The Midnight Sky, some 100 million budget is reportedly wasted in pseudo-intellectual insignificance due to a misguided choice of director, along with the performance of a whole squad of great actors. This movie is tragically a cold fart that doesn’t even manage to stink a tiny bit. George Clooney is not doing his career as a director any favors with this. Neither do his fans and Netflix subscribers.
Source citation: press interview, December 9, 2020.
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