Sunday, November 9, 2014

Review: Interstellar

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
You can't fault Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" for lack of chutzpah. The film has its flaws, but it's bolder in vision than virtually every other blockbuster released this year and has more than a few moments of greatness in it. If it doesn't quite rise to the level of a great movie, it's certainly a very good one and fill with fascinating ideas.

In the picture, Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a former astronaut turned farmer who is trying to help his family survive somewhere in the American Southwest at a time in the not-so-distant, bleak future. When he and his daughter stumble upon a project to send explorers to the far reaches of the universe in order to find a new home for humanity, he is enlisted to be its pilot.

While "Interstellar" is a science fiction drama - with a heavy emphasis on the science, which is often laid out in overly descriptive detail - it is also a movie about a dysfunctional family. McConaughey's daughter, Murphy (who grows up to be Jessica Chastain and then Ellen Burstyn), resents her father's leaving her, her brother (who grows up to be Casey Affleck) and grandfather (John Lithgow) behind for his mission, which is organized by an aging scientist (Michael Caine) and carried out by his daughter (Anne Hathaway).

If I were able to further explain the film's concepts about black holes and wormholes, I would. Suffice it to say, it's a heady experiment that occasionally mingles in emotional turmoil and includes some stunning visuals, especially during a sequence on a planet filled with tidal waves.

McConaughey carries the film and proves that his terrific work of recent years need not only be saved for independent films, but also for big budget extravaganzas. Chastain and Caine nicely fulfill the obligations of the human drama down on Earth, which is being engulfed by dust and fires.

For a point of comparison, last year's "Gravity" was much simpler - at least, narratively and scientifically - but it is a better film in its execution. "Interstellar" occasionally stumbles, especially during a later sequence in its near three-hour running time during which Cooper discovers a betrayal on a distant planet, which is intercut with Chastain's attempts to convince her bull-headed brother to move off his farm. The editing is a little jarring and, at points, the loud thrum of the film's soundtrack drowns out the voices.

That being said, this is a monumentally ambitious sci-fi spectacle. For my money, "Memento" is still Nolan's greatest film, but "Interstellar" rivals "The Dark Knight" for second place. Much like that Batman film, his latest is a little too long and, on occasion, a little clunky in its exposition.

But on the whole, there's nothing else out there like it this year and there are few filmmakers who can get the green light in Hollywood for movies as full of ideas as this one. "Interstellar" may not be perfect, but it's occasionally full of wonder and spectacular vision.

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