MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Interstellar’ Visits Deep Space With Familiar Twists

Interstellar-Poster

Film: Interstellar
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway
Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan might’ve bitten off more than he could chew with Interstellar. Still, despite several genre clichés and a third act that sometimes leaves a lot to be desired in comparison to everything that occurs prior, the latest epic adventure from the man behind The Dark Knight provides nearly three hours of dramatic entertainment. It’s a spectacle ripe with human emotion, but it’s hard to shake the notion that something is missing. How much you notice or how much that fact bothers you will vary from person to person.

If you have seen one dystopian future you have more or less seen them all. Interstellar begins at some point in the relatively near future after Earth has become increasingly barren from a toxic combination of over-farming, pollution, and overpopulation. Many still try to live their lives as they always have, but the constant dust storms and high demand for intelligent farmers makes the realities of existence hard to ignore. One man, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), raises his two children on a family farm that has seen better days. He’s a brilliant man with a knack for engineering, but in a world lacking a sufficient food supply there is very little need for men with his skills. So, like so many others in his rural community, he farms.

One day, Cooper stumbles upon a gravitational anomaly, leading him to discover the fact that NASA, which was long thought to be shuttered, still exists. He discovers a team of scientists and engineers who have been working to find a way to save mankind and after many years of trying to solve the problems with our planet they have realized the only permanent solution would be to find a new home. By the time Cooper arrives they have recruited a team and built a rocket; however, upon realizing who has stumbled into their headquarters the team quickly convinces Cooper to join their expedition, which requires him to leave his children for an unknown amount of time. Faced with the choice to either save man or spend whatever time was left for the human race with his children, Cooper chooses the more noble option.

To reveal too much of what follows from this point forward would be to spoil a truly original adventure into deep space (through a wormhole, no less). When those moments arise, Interstellar soars with gorgeous visuals, thunderous music, and unique moments of tension that could only occur on planets other than our own. The problem is, there is very little of this to be found. Much like 2014’s Godzilla, the main spectacle (space) is kept largely in the shadows throughout most of the film. Nolan chooses to keep his spectacle hidden until the moments it will be most impactful, and when they hit the film reaches great heights of cinematic glory. In between, however, there is more melodrama than Nolan has ever attempted to convey, and the results of his efforts are often a little mixed.

This journey would not work without strong performances, and Nolan has made sure to pack as many stars into this feature as he possibly could. Matthew McConaughey is flawless in his portrayal of Cooper, peeling back layer after layer until ultimately showcasing a man ready to die as long as it means his children will be safe. He’s supported largely by Anne Hathaway, who makes the most of a role that could have easily been written off as another cliché female space companion with complicated emotions, as well as commendable turns from Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow, Topher Grace, and Michael Cane. There’s even a short appearance from Matt Damon that offers the veteran actor a rare chance to showcase something other than his sensitive side. All of these people are what make Interstellar an adventure worth taking, and even when the story falls a little flat, their delivery remains intact.

My biggest complaint with Interstellar is that, much like Nolan’s previous work in Inception, the film explains everything that the characters will do and all the ways it could go wrong, then proceeds to show you what was just explained at length with little-to-no variation. Is it gorgeous and well-executed? Yes. Is it performed well? Yes. Is it shocking or in any way mind-blowing? That depends on how closely you choose to pay attention during the scenes where scientists spit facts and theories at one another as if either has ever traveled to deep space. Nolan lays everything out before the second act even begins, but those distracted by the beautiful, albeit sometimes haunting images onscreen may never even notice. Part of me envies those audience members.

Additionally, there are two others members to McConaughey and Hathaway’s space crew that are never given any real purpose other than potential disposal. You know this because they’re also the only two main characters not portrayed by a recognizable actor. Their history is never touched upon, and their motivations for joining the mission are never revealed. They exist to be put in danger, and that is exactly how they are used. Nolan has always struggled with supporting characters that felt real, and here that has once again tripped him up. Amidst a universe filled with brilliance, two dramatic duds find their way into the ship who viewers spend the bulk of two hours experiencing. Yet, they are given zero opportunities to do anything other than create dire/prevent situations that the two leads always survive.

All these gripes aside, Interstellar does find Nolan tapping into real human emotions through the strained and often troubled relationship between Cooper and his two children. The longing, rage, sadness, and eventual disappointment that comes with Cooper’s decision to embark upon NASA’s journey will likely ripple through the heart of every parent, as well as children with parents who are beginning to reach a later stage in life. Throughout all the science silliness, love and the need to feel connected to the rest of humanity keeps Interstellar grounded in reality. This sometimes comes with the cost of having to experience a handful of incredibly sappy moments where otherwise intelligent characters treat the idea of love as an all powerful force, but occurrences are few and far between. The reliability is obvious and omnipresent, which is all Nolan really needs to win over the majority of moviegoers.

When its near three-hour runtime finally comes to a close, Interstellar delivers a fitting conclusion that will leave you feeling a rush of emotions you may not be prepared to share in public. When that initial wave begins to fade, you’ll think hard about what you’ve experienced and may, at least for a moment, feel a bit overwhelmed. Stay calm and remember that it was all explained at length before it happened, and anything you thought was mind-blowing was really just a well-executed delivery on an aforementioned narrative promise. This is not to say Interstellar is underwhelming, but the journey it has to share lacks the risks necessary to leave a lasting impression on the viewer. It’s remarkable, but truth be told not all that original, and though it performs admirably it’s hard to shake the notion something is missing from the final result.

GRADE: B

Review written by James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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