Christopher Nolan is in a privileged position. A true auteur working in the Hollywood system, his career has seen him tackle larger projects with every outing. It has been one hell of a career so far. We’re a far cry from the gritty twists and turns of his time-reversing thriller and a long way from the streets of Gotham that saw a highly copied cinematic tone established.
With Interstellar, Nolan shoots for the stars in more ways than one. A journey through space, time, and the essence of humanity, Nolan’s ambitious ninth feature is a standout on a C.V. filled with impressive pictures.
The future is bleak, as is often the case. There is no montage of news clips to serve as a catch up as we enter this unspecified point in our near future; the earth’s status is put together by the viewer in a nicely paced first section.
We meet ex-NASA pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), his two children, 15-year-old Tom (Timothée Chalamet) and 10-year-old daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy), and father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow). The family dynamic is established effortlessly, as this corn-farming family try to make it work on a dying, dust-filled earth.
Interstellar’s many plot developments are best experienced knowing as little as possible going in. Suffice it to say, after one particular dust storm, Cooper is led to a NASA team with one plan: travel through a black hole to find a planet capable of sustaining human life.
A multi-layered exploration of emotion, science, space and what it is that drives humanity to persevere, one does not watch the film for long before realizing that they are indeed witnessing something special.
It is in fact at the leaving of earth that the true scope of Nolan’s vision begins to unfold. Christopher Nolan and brother Jonathan, who previously worked together on The Prestige, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, have crafted a monumental screenplay with Interstellar. One that is not only unafraid to expand on concepts and sci-fi tropes we have seen played out before, but one that ultimately establishes a format and rhythm all of its own. In other words, the Nolans have crafted an original body of work on the backbone that has been laid down before.
The scientific jargon and thoughts thrown about may hurt some heads, but it’s all generally easy to understand and follow. In truth, kudos are in order for the determination the Nolans have to not only stick to a risky theory-driven screenplay, but to have it broken down in ways that make it palatable to the everyday viewer.
The key to the film’s success in delivering such grand concepts on a comprehendible level ultimately comes down to emotional investment. This is Nolan’s most moving film to date. While some of the filmmaker’s previous work has suffered from a certain coldness, Interstellar ensures it presents the emotional connection between people as the means for which to push its narrative.
It’s the father-daughter relationship between Cooper and Murphy that drives much of the film, cementing its importance as the theory of relativity becomes a troubling issue. The bond between parent and child strikes just the right chord in the midst of the ups and downs of Cooper’s space adventure, and it’s what ultimately paves the way for the film’s gutsy last chapter.
Of course, the screenplay’s smarts would be nothing without the perfect cast to drive it all home. Nolan has assembled a dream cast for this epic, and he’s made the right decision of placing McConaughey in the lead role.
At the peak of his transformed career, McConaughey delivers yet another impressive performance. There are the makings of an all-American hero in his character, but McConaughey puts his all into some very emotional moments, layering the character at every turn, drawing us in.
The supporting cast, almost too many mention, all hit the right notes. Anne Hathaway gives a solid performance, as does Michael Caine and Casey Affleck. Mackenzie Foy and Jessica Chastain, the young and old versions of his daughter, respectively, are both fantastic in highly emotive turns. If there is a qualm with the amount of characters, it’s that some get left by the wayside; poorly written personas that seem to have been thrown in to simply fatten up the already plump screenplay. Mind you, this is but a slight qualm.
In a film this grand, any missteps are felt more than they would be in lesser films. For example, some of the dialogue here just doesn’t quite work. Certain moments are undermined with awkward attempts at exposition and emotion, even having characters verbally clarify twists in case an audience member was slow on the uptake. While this only happens a handful of times, it’s enough to be of concern to a picky critic.
Ultimately minor quibbles aside, some of cinema’s most talented individuals are at the top of their game here. D.O.P. Hoyte Van Hoytema (Let the Right One In, The Fighter, Her) does some of his best work with Interstellar, as does Academy Award-winning composer Hans Zimmer (The Lion King, Gladiator, The Dark Knight), who creates a perfect 2001-inspired score.
Interstellar aims to be a spectacle, a larger than life sci-fi epic. It succeeds. Textbooks could be written on nearly every aspect of the film, both behind-the-scenes and on-screen. While there may be some that will complain about the intricate worthiness of the film’s scientific angles, it’s important to remember that ‘fiction’ is an important factor in ‘science-fiction’.
What Interstellar achieves is downright impressive. This is Nolan achingly close to perfection, confidently crafting a sci-fi opus unafraid to tackle grand ideas and a sprawling, somewhat complicated narrative design. This is sci-fi the likes of which is not seen often. This is cinema.
THE REEL SCORE: 9/10