Sunday, November 9, 2014

'Interstellar' review

Christopher Nolan has made some of the most terrific films of our time, and some of my personal favorite movies. The Dark Knight and Inception are insanely brilliant and that's why I was pumped for Nolan's Interstellar. A grand, sweeping epic in themes and in scope, Interstellar is an ambitious movie that emerges as one of the most amazing films I've ever seen. The film is dense and complicated and you surely won't understand all of it the first time you see it (I've seen it twice and I still have questions). And it's not a perfect film either. It has flaws, but it's a film that you just can't shake. I sat in the theater in awe, fully engrossed by the grand and sprawling vision that Nolan had put on screen. Interstellar is another brilliant masterpiece from my favorite director and it's a film that will be sticking around for a long time.

Interstellar is set in a ravaged future America, where food is scarce and crops are dying. It's essentially a futuristic dust bowl and society has fallen apart. Innovation is scarce and humanity is focused only on surviving. Our hero is Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a farmer with two kids who is way too smart for his job. Cooper is a pilot and an engineer and he is unsettled by the lack of imagination in society. The Earth is slowly dying and nobody seems able to do anything about it. However, when something leads Cooper to the underground headquarters of NASA, things change.

Dr. Brand (Michael Caine) is heading up a top-secret NASA project that will utilize a wormhole just beyond Saturn to travel to another galaxy. Cooper is the only chance that NASA has, so he has to take it, leaving his son Tom and his beloved daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy). Cooper leaves Earth with Doyle (Wes Bentley), Romilly (David Gyasi), Brand's daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), and two artificially intelligent robots, TARS (Bill Irwin) and CASE (Josh Stewart). Their journey into deep space will reveal some of the greatest discoveries in human history.

If you found Inception to be confusing and overly difficult, get ready for Interstellar. This labyrinth of a space opera is packed with heady science ideas including relativity, alternate dimensions, time travel, wormholes, gravity, and much, much more. It's almost too much for one film, but Nolan's brilliant direction and superb script make the film go down with ease. Even if you don't understand all of the science, you'll still be engrossed by the drama at hand. There's a lot of material packed into this film, but it's spread out across a sprawling 169 minute runtime that goes by in a flash. Interstellar is a brilliant film with a lot to unpack and a lot to enjoy. That's what makes it so special.

The film is very much separated into three acts, and the first act takes place completely on Earth. In fact, we don't even get to space until an hour into the film. And that's okay, because the Earthbound action is spectacularly entertaining. Nolan, like David Fincher among other directors, has a knack for making everyday conversation seem interesting. There's an immediacy to the dialogue that I love. I know that some people find Nolan's dialogue flawed, but I've always enjoyed it. He also creates an interesting vision of Earth in the future that is both distant and familiar, scary and comforting.

When the action moves to space, Nolan runs into his biggest problem (which is actually pretty small). There's action to get to, but there are things that have to happen first. He needs to get through plot points, but you can tell that he had to rush through some of it. The transition between Earth and space is rather jarring and once we get there, things become slightly choppy. The crew jumps from being in space to being in hyper sleep to being in the wormhole to being on the first planet in a matter of about thirty minutes, and it's slightly rushed. I know that Nolan had to keep this film at a reasonable runtime, but I really wish there had been more time to look at some of those aspects. But I digress. I was never bored during the second act, I just wish that Nolan had more time to let the characters and the situations breathe.

The third act is where things get crazy. I won't divulge many details about what goes down, but it's what makes this movie extraordinary. Nolan cranks up the action to 11 in the third act and it makes for one of the best theater experiences I've ever had. The film was thrilling and yet it blew my mind at the same time. Try to go into the film with as few spoilers as possible, because it will be so much more enjoyable.

With the exception of Heath Ledger's performance in The Dark Knight, I've rarely been blown away by the performances in Nolan's films. They're always good, but rarely extraordinary. For the most part, that's the case with the actors in Interstellar. Matthew McConaughey is  great as Cooper and you really care for his character. Hathaway also shows great restrain and creates a nuanced character. Mackenzie Foy is a standout as young Murph and as many critics have noted, David Gyasi does a great job as Romilly.

This is a massive cast, with several supporting roles for big time actors. Bill Irwin and Josh Stewart bring life to two fun AI characters, Michael Caine is fantastic as Brand, and Wes Bentley does good in his limited role. Casey Affleck and Jessica Chastain are good, but underused as Cooper's older kids. Topher Grace is pretty good in his small, yet integral role and one of Hollywood's most famous actors (who I will not mention in this review) does a great job of creating a complex character.

Nolan's script is incredibly precise, with a level of detail that only he could get away with. The script was co-written by his brother Johnathan Nolan and he does a great job of mixing complex and trippy scientific ideas with genuine human drama and emotion. It's a terrific high wire act and I loved it. I honestly wish that this movie was closer to 200 minutes. It feels rushed at 169 minutes.

On the technical side of things, Interstellar is an amazing achievement. The cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema is grainy on Earth and beautifully clear in space, comparing and contrasting the environments nicely. Hans Zimmer's brilliant score is fantastic, mixing the usual action movie score tropes with the sound of organs blasting through the speakers. Interstellar is very much a visual and aural experience, and Zimmer's score contributes to that. The visual effects are undeniably amazing as well. Some of the visual effects work is completely groundbreaking and I was very impressed.

If this movie had been done on a smaller scale, its issues might become more problematic. But Interstellar is done on such a majestic scale that the issues feel minuscule in the grand scheme of things. The film spans hundreds of years, conquering themes that no other filmmaker would dare touch. To call it one of the most ambitious films I've ever seen would be an understatement.

Interstellar is not a perfect film. Nobody will say that it is. I doubt that even Nolan would call this a perfect movie. But it is a film that is incredible on so many levels. On my initial viewing, it hooked me in the opening minutes, lost me for a moment in the second act, and then blew my freaking mind in the home stretch. The second time around I was even more enthralled- my problems with the second act were pretty much gone. Like Nolan's other films, there's just an indescribable feeling that came over me when I watched this movie. It was a strange mix of excitement, love and wonder and it was incredible. It's a film that only Nolan could make and it's one of the greatest cinematic accomplishments I've ever witnessed.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A+                                            (10/10)

Image Credits: Wired,  Huffington Post, Impact Magazine, Huffington Post, Movie Pilot, Hollywood Reporter

1 comment:

  1. It's deeply flawed but also wholly absorbing, and it marks Nolan as one of our most ambitious, go-for-broke directors, unafraid to attempt Sistine Chapel ceilings while his fellow filmmakers are working with Crayolas.