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Review: Interstellar

November 5, 2014

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Interstellar Poster

I went into Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar trying to keep an open mind, not wanting to be influenced by either the positive or negative side of the increasingly unavoidable buzz.  As a whole, I liked the film, and my recommendation comes easily.

Shot on glorious 70mm, this is a stunning visual achievement and one of the best looking movies of the year, especially when projected onto a gigantic IMAX screen.  But  I can also understand where the other side of the critical divide is coming from, and I don’t think every element of this science fiction epic works equally well.

But I digress, because audiences deserve to experience this one for themselves, and even at the arguably conceded running length of 167 minutes, the film moves at an engaging pace and rarely drags.  I’m curious to see how more people respond as Interstellar opens today at theatres with their film projectors still in place, before expanding everywhere this weekend.

The story begins at an unspecified time in the future, when the Earth has been choked with dust, and because of this hostile environment, crops are dying at alarming rates and the human population is dwindling.  Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former NASA pilot turned farmer, determined to provide the best life for his remaining family, including his adoring young daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy).

The government has long since shut down any space programs, refusing to spend more money exploring other worlds, when the one we have is wasting away.  But a section of NASA is still active, including astronaut Amelia (Anne Hathaway) and her father Professor Brand (Michael Caine), who are spearheading a last ditch effort to save mankind, by travelling through a mysteriously formed worm hole near Saturn in hopes of finding a habitable planet on the other side.  Cooper is their best option to pilot the ship, forcing him to leave his family behind, as his daughter grows up to become a scientist (Jessica Chastain), still determined to reunite with him.

I wouldn’t think of spoiling any more of the story, but I will say that we are taken on a literal journey through space and time, and the results are visually stunning.  The images of space as they float through the darkness are beautifully realized, and the cinematography is consistently breathtaking, whether flying over icy landscapes or showing the expansive scope of a humongous tidal wave threatening to crash down over the screen.  There are also some memorable uses of sound, both rattling sonic booms and equally haunting silences, matched by Hans Zimmer’s thunderous musical score.

Although this isn’t Christopher Nolan’s best film, for me those honours still go to The Dark Knight and Inception, the director gets points for continuing to follow his own unique vision and delivering intelligent blockbuster fare.  Some of the more sentimental moments of his script do threaten to become melodramatic, but they ultimately work because of the strength of the cast.  A year after his masterful Oscar-winning performance in Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey delivers a true movie star turn here, heroic one moment and emotionally devastated the next.  Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain are also excellent in their respective supporting roles.

But the film is also narratively flawed, taking a turn in the last act that will either be seen as profoundly moving or heavy handed and ludicrous.  I was gripped to the screen throughout most of Interstellar, but for the last thirty minutes, often felt like I was dropped into someone’s delirious mind trip.  I mean, I do have to admire the dedicated weirdness and admitted originality of what Christopher Nolan tries to depict.  But it plays more like fantasy or emotional metaphor, where the rest of the film strives for scientific explanation.  There are still a lot of interesting ideas at play here, even throughout these scenes, but the conclusion feels both overreaching and almost like too easy of an answer.

But this is the sort of film where subsequent viewings could easily help smooth out these narrative faults and apparent holes in the story.  And I do look forward to another viewing, because much of Interstellar does work quite well, an admirable technical achievement that never disappoints on a visual level.  This is an expansive, thought provoking and wholly ambitious journey that begs to be experienced, and the majestic images captured on screen make this an often breathtaking cinematic trip that is every bit worth taking for yourself.

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