Film Review: Interstellar

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Interstellar is at its best when playing with science, as Christopher Nolan propels his cautionary tale with his always solid filmmaking.

Set a couple of generations into our future, the world is being ravaged by drought and dust storms as climate change drastically changed our planet. Society is stable, even if it is dying, as we have moved past the wars and famine that destroyed society as we know it. When a freak anomaly pops up in the Cooper family’s house, a corn farmer who left behind a career as an engineer/pilot when those skills weren’t needed anymore in the world, he finds himself at the coordinates of a secret NASA facility with a chance to save the human race.

Interstellar’s plot is pretty straight forward at its core, save the human race, but the particulars are rooted in astrophysics and theoretical science that I was eating up every step of the way. I am curious to see how this stuff plays to a more layman crowd, as opposed to those who love Neil Degrasse Tyson, as much of this film is exposition heavy conversations about all that science stuff. And we all know a lot of people hate science stuff in this country.

Regardless, Nolan’s set pieces are visceral rides that you can easily enjoy without knowing anything about the science involved. One extended sequence in particular starts as a human struggle on a planet and ends up being a sort of space race sequence that is worth your time Interstellar all on its own. The sequence is intense, brilliantly paced and visually stunning. Actually, if you are looking for this to be an action thrill ride, then you will probably be a bit disappointed. There are only a couple of action set pieces in the film, and while that extended one I just mentioned is excellent, the movie finds its tension and thrills in the unknown of the team’s odyssey.

My biggest reservation with the film is something I can’t really discuss without spoilers (hopefully Lauren and I will dissect Interstellar soon), but the movie isn’t as emotionally satisfying as it wishes it was. The film devotes a ton of time to building up its core family relationship, and this is all very enjoyable to watch, but I barely connected with anyone in the film on an emotional level.

Matthew McConaughey is endlessly watchable as the charming, cavalier pilot, Cooper. McConaughey is the life force of the film, is the only character seeming to have any fun besides the robots TARS & CASE (played wonderfully by Bill Irwin and Josh Stewart), and I wonder how well this movie plays without his energy at its core. The film revolves around Cooper, but I wish we explored some of the other characters in the film as much as we do him. Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck’s parts are a bit surface, but they work because of the time put into the Cooper family bond in the beginning of the film and because they are both great actors. Anne Hathaway’s Amelia Brand isn’t as lucky a role, as most of her relationships are quickly alluded to and don’t carry enough weight for them to matter in the moments they need to. Even her relationship to her father doesn’t resonate like it could. Hathaway is solid in the part, but there could have been so much more for them to explore with her. I understand this is a story about the Coopers, particularly between the father and daughter, but giving us more background with Brand would have really played well for me. Wes Bentley and David Gyasi are equally neglected as one another and any background on them could have also elevated the emotional stakes. Matt Damon as Dr. Mann is a bright spot when he shows up though, and the Nolan’s script is a fantastic play on our perception of the actor.

Another technical shout out should be handed to Hans Zimmer, whose score was mesmerizing in all of the right places. The film is also gorgeous in IMAX, and while I wish Nolan would shoot 70mm for his non-IMAX scenes so the quality jump between the two wasn’t so drastic, I am never not going to recommend that you miss out on a film that devotes so much of its runtime to the IMAX format. The big set piece of the film is shot almost entirely in IMAX, and it puts you right into the thick of things in the film’s most intense moments.

Interstellar is often an exhilarating ride, but the emotional beats it wants to go for didn’t resonate as deep as they could. Nolan makes the most of the space visuals and really embraces science in a way that few films do, and even though I might disagree with the way the ending takes that science, I think it is supported by the text of the film. Beyond my nitpicking, Interstellar is still well worth a watch on the biggest and loudest screen you can find.

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