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Dustin Putman

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Interstellar  (2014)
3 Stars
Directed by Christopher Nolan.
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, David Gyasi, Wes Bentley, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow, Mackenzie Foy, Timothée Chalamet, Topher Grace, Ellen Burstyn, William Devane, David Oyelowo, Collette Wolfe, Leah Cairns, Liam Dickinson, Brooke Smith, Matt Damon; voices of Bill Irwin, Josh Stewart.
2014 – 169 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for perilous action and brief strong language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 5, 2014.
Illustrious of vision but even grander of ideas, "Interstellar" is majestic science-fiction done right. Mostly. Writer-director Christopher Nolan (2012's "The Dark Knight Rises") and his frequent collaborator, co-writer/brother Jonathan Nolan, dare to imagine not just this galaxy but also the next, in a sprawling, emotionally wrought time-and-space-jumping saga about a harrowing last-ditch effort to save humankind's legacy. Treating their apocalyptic setting with somber, non-showy precision and the plot's barrier-breaking space travel with a part-fanciful, part-scientific complexity, the Nolans have built from the ground up an original slice of cinema with a familiar but not ineffectual thematic heartbeat. In an attempt to explain its mind-bending premise to mainstream audiences, however, the script occasionally and ineloquently spells things out, wading too deeply into overt exposition. At this point in his seasoned career, Christopher Nolan should exhibit a little more trust in the potency of his images to tell the story.

In the near future, the Earth's crops are dying at an exponentially fast rate as a perpetual storm of dust settles over the planet. In schools, only select students are deemed worthy of attending college and revised history textbooks now claim the Apollo missions were faked in an attempt to bankrupt the Soviet Union. Several years ago, former NASA test pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) lost his wife to brain cancer and saw his job taken away from him. He worries that his children, 15-year-old son Tom (Timothée Chalamet) and pre-teen daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy), may be the population's last surviving generation, but doesn't know how to reverse the calamity already in progress. A "ghost" Murphy claims is in her bedroom is the catalyst that leads Cooper to a top-secret NASA operation headed by Professor Brand (Michael Caine). Forty-eight years ago, a wormhole presumably leading to another galaxy mysteriously appeared near Saturn, and Brand is in the midst of spearheading a new mission to space in the hopes of locating a habitable world on which to live. "We're not meant to save the world," Brand tells Cooper. "We're meant to leave it."

When Cooper is offered the opportunity to pilot this death-defying voyage, he is conflicted about leaving his kids and missing the rest of their childhoods—traveling to Saturn alone will take two years—but the drive to give them and the rest of humanity a second chance at a future is too strong for him to turn down. Because one of the thrills of "Interstellar" is making each discovery alongside Cooper and the rest of his Endurance crew—Romilly (David Gyasi), Doyle (Wes Bentley), Brand's daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway), and an ex-military security robot named TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin)—viewers should go in knowing as little as possible about where their journey takes them and what they find on the other side. When sacrifices mount and the big bad reality of relativity sets in, a literal race against time begins. What will be the use of their mission, after all, if everyone on Earth is dead before they return?

"Interstellar" is a love story about the undying bond between a parent and a child in the guise of a rollicking, massively scaled adventure. While Matthew McConaughey (2013's "Dallas Buyers Club") and Mackenzie Foy (2013's "The Conjuring") are only on screen together for twenty or thirty minutes up front, their tight-knit chemistry as Cooper and Murphy holds a heart-aching urgency that carries these two characters and their personal battles through the succeeding two hours. McConaughey is excellent here, the continuation of a rejuvenated career full of diverse and challenging roles. Indeed, there is not a sign of the actor's "all right, all right, all right" persona in Cooper; the grief and determination McConaughey conveys as his loved ones age without him stings with truth. As the adult Murphy, Jessica Chastain (2013's "Mama") eclipses the limitations of a role that requires she be fueled by the anger she still feels over her dad abandoning her. Chastain is seemingly incapable of hitting a false note in her performances, but one cannot help but wish she was given more to do.

For a while, it feels as if Anne Hathaway (2012's "Les Misérables") may also fall victim to an underwritten character, but as the narrative progresses and Amelia is confronted by revelations involving her own loved ones, the actress dramatically lets go in a way that nearly surpasses her co-stars—no small feat. Hathaway and McConaughey are paired as professional colleagues rather than lovers, and yet the unspoken connection between them palpably increases as the stakes raise. There is more to Dr. Brand than meets the eye, and the layers of intention brought to life by Michael Caine (2013's "Now You See Me") are wholly arresting. In a supporting part that has been kept closely guarded, Matt Damon (2013's "Elysium") makes a startling impact, lingering in memory beyond his scenes. And, voicing the robotic TARS, Bill Irwin (2008's "Rachel Getting Married") finds the pitch-perfect cadence of a sentient being far more human than its physical form suggests. TARS' aesthetic design is odd, to say the least—picture a Muppet version of a mall kiosk—and yet it works splendidly against all odds.

In an age of digitalization, "Interstellar" was shot on film—a portion with IMAX cameras—and makes yet another convincing case for how entrancingly textured and richly one-of-a-kind this dying format is. It helps that Hoyte Van Hoytema's (2013's "Her") lensing is so sublime, bringing weighty authenticity to each exotic environ. Also superb: the magnificent visual effects (free of greenscreen work, which Christopher Nolan avoided) that take Cooper and his team to lonesome alien star systems of reverence and wonder, and a foreboding, gloriously eccentric music score from composer Hans Zimmer (2014's "The Amazing Spider-Man 2") that sounds inspired by the synth-heavy beats of Goblin and John Carpenter-era Alan Howarth. As technically flawless and subjectively ambitious as the project is, the screenplay's trajectory disappoints a tad in the third act as it leans upon numerous plot conveniences and an overabundance of scenes where dialogue is awkwardly inserted to explain to viewers what is going on. A key climactic twist can also be predicted before the first act is up. "Interstellar" is dense and challenging in some respects and rather obvious in others, but there is no denying how poignantly felt its ruminations are about mortality, the process of life, and the infinite possibilities out in the universe yet to be discovered.
© 2014 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman