There probably isn’t anyone out there who doesn’t respect George Clooney and everything he has done, on-screen, behind the camera, and in normal life. The guy, let’s face it, is pretty much unhateable, despite being the worst Batman we have ever seen, a fact the Oscar winner will admit almost every time he is interviewed. Then again, even the most accomplished of performers would have struggled to get anything out of 1997’s catastrophe other than a tarnished reputation, but Clooney has bounced back and then some, becoming one of the biggest names in film and is back on starring/producing/directing duties with this post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama based on the 2016 book by Lily Brooks-Dalton.

Clooney stars as Augustine, a famed scientist, and doctor who may be the key to preventing a monumental human tragedy. The year is 2049 and the event, which has made the Earth almost uninhabitable, has been caused by radiation that has spiked across the globe, killing billions. Above in the grand emptiness of space, the few remaining have sent a team of scientists (led by Felicity Jones and David Oyelowo) to a far-away moon seen as a new home for the survivors If all this sounds hugely familiar, well it is but sci-fi of this nature is seldom “original” when dealing with end of the world events: it’s just which of the get-out cards one film wants to pick to survive.

Underground bunkers? Massive ships on the ever-rising water levels? Finding a new planet to call home 2.0? Mankind wasn’t meant to die on Earth, but perhaps more so now than ever before, we are certainly trying very hard to do the opposite. The film touches on themes of climate change, environmental issues, even those we have dealt with in 2020 but despite its earnest and thoughtful nature, never really penetrates as it should. Indeed, for a story about the end of days, we barely scratch the surface of the how and what, leaving much of its dramatics becoming duller than they otherwise might have been.

Clooney, the star, is refreshingly off-kilter, that is to say, playing a character that isn’t blessed with his usual charms and charisma. Gruff, downtrodden, and bereft of hope, Augustine is the antithesis of everything we expect from him, and while the choices he makes are questionable, he revels in a different gear. The same can be said for the filmmaker, mixing up his usual dramatics with something broader and grander in scale as he handles proceedings pretty well despite the script’s heavy-handedness. His work with Alfonso Cuaron on Gravity doesn’t go unnoticed and without it, he may not have felt quite so comfortable, but his Space School has left him in good stead here.

It doesn’t do anything new or wholly original down its much-trodden pathways but The Midnight Sky takes a good stab at it: Clooney’s finesse and charisma bring us a touching, thoughtful, and stirring sci-fi drama that while gets a little muddled and obvious in its final act, is well worth your time during this strange festive season. His beard definitely is.