George Clooney is an interesting actor, with his thousand watt movie star appeal and cool public persona, he could just collect the paycheck. Instead he approaches projects “one for them” and “one for me”, providing creative freedom, whilst keeping the bean counters happy.
This has not always proved successful but plaudits for hitting for the stands rather than playing it safe.
Clooney takes on both the central character of ailing scientist “Augustine” in a post apocalyptic world circa 2049 and director duties for his seventh movie.
Following an “event” never detailed, Augustine remains at an isolated Arctic outpost, despite everyone else being evacuated. There is nowhere to go, the world is ending and it’s only a matter of time before the Arctic is also consumed. Augustine completes daily dialysis to keep his illness at bay, augmented by whisky and an industrial sized grey beard.
Meanwhile out in deep space, spaceship “Aether” is returning from a mission to map “K23”, a planet identified to support life in the future, Plan B if you will. This has been a resounding success, unfortunately unbeknown to the crew, Plan A represented by the Earth, has not been so well looked after, leaving nowhere safe to land.
Aboard the Aether, the fanciest and wackiest looking ship ever, is a diverse crew comprising commander “Adewole” (David Oyelowo), partner “Sully” (Felicity Jones), “Mitchell” (Kyle Chandler), “Maya” (Tiffany Boone) and rounding out the crew roster, “Sanchez” (Demián Bichir). The crew have their own issues to deal with, as they approach Earth through an uncharted area of space.
Meanwhile, Augustine’s dying wish is to warn the spaceship of the dangers of returning home, requiring access to a more powerful transmitter miles away through frozen tundra. He is helped and hindered in equal measure by a young girl “Iris” (Caoilinn Springall), left behind by mistake. The film further sketches out Augustine’s earlier backstory via flashbacks (Ethan Peck), using audio trickery to capture Clooney’s distinctive voice.
Whilst the story arc is simple, the film is intended more of a meditative statement on life, our place in it, relationships, regrets, redemption, all the big stuff Clooney chooses to take on. This is notoriously difficult to balance with mainstream appeal and the film does not always work as a cohesive whole.
Clooney plays against type, looking disheveled and filled with regret, his only friend a bottle of whisky. Springall however, makes the most of every scene, acting with her eyes, which is just as well as her dialogue is severely limited.
The film feels safer than it should, there are no hard edges despite decent action scenes outside the comparative safety of the research station. Whilst VFX is impressive, the premise and quest seem forced and unbelievable with the two distinct story strands never gelling together, despite the ambiguous ending.
Not Clooney’s finest despite good intent and ideas, albeit well executed by a director growing in confidence and ambition.
The story, initial pace and length highlights the occasional quality control issues bedeviling Netflix. With money to burn on projects that might not have made the grade, before exclusive big budget streaming events became a reality.
(Showing exclusively on Netflix)