When you hear the name Christopher Nolan, you immediately think of great films. He and his brother John’s writing and story lines always hold great intrigue because they’re twisty, mysterious, and are usually fantastic psychological thrillers. With films like Memento, The Dark Knight Trilogy, and Inception under his built, it’s disappointing to say that Interstellar is a bit of a downer given the very high expectations that have been set for it.

In an unknown future, it’s unclear when but sometime in the twenty first century, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is an engineer and former pilot-turned farmer trying to keep his son Tom (Timothee Chalamet), daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) and his father-in-law (John Lithgow) together, safe, and fed. A food shortage has shaken the world and starvation has led to billions of deaths. Certain crops bring temporary sustenance for a couple of years, but aren’t able to be maintained for longer. In addition to that, the dust storms will kill off the next generation of humans before they even reach adulthood.

A gravitational anomaly coming from Murph’s room (something she refers to as a ghost because it feels like a person) leads them to coordinates where an under-the-radar NASA group is researching and studying ways to save the human race. After finding out about a worm hole near Saturn, Cooper jumps at the chance to help, knowing that his fate doesn’t lay in being only a farmer. Needing a pilot and speeding up the process of space flight with his presence, Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) quickly brief him on their mission in seeking another suitable planet in another galaxy within the wormhole. So Cooper embarks on their mission without knowing how long it will take, what’s in store, or how long he’ll go without seeing his family, because, of course, this mission isn’t going to be easy nor what he ever could have imagined.

The Nolans have always been and very much still are very ambitious people. Their stories are always ingrained with something deeper, something people don’t usually imagine, but it’s very clear that they try to do too much in terms of Interstellar’s plot. The first half of the film is really good. There’s intrigue, a spark of mystery, suspense, and a plot that’s going somewhere. However, around halfway through, it becomes a bit clear where Nolan’s headed and the rest of the movie seems to falter and becomes a bit unstable. Much like a black hole.

There’s a highly captivating scientific aspect of the film that can’t be denied, but it never really feels like it flourishes properly because it’s too bound to the limits of humanity. Also, the Nolans try and cram what feels like several moving pieces, but they never move in a way that feels ultimately connected.

There’s the relationship between Cooper and his daughter, which is sweet and is focused upon in the first half. There’s the information and theory on the space-time continuum, black holes, wormholes, and the relativity of time and dimensions. Outside of that, there are other events happening and they all don’t intertwine as well as they should, causing the second half of the film to feel partially imbalanced due to the difficulty in keeping everything afloat.

The film, on the other hand, looks fantastic. It’s visually stunning, and much like Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity will probably make you want to risk your life in space just to be able to see its vast beauty. Nolan, as a director, knows how to keep the suspense going withing the journey and technical difficulties that the characters face without too much trouble. He’s able to do that here, since the most thrilling scenes are ones that include humans vs. technology and things outside of our reach or understanding.

Matthew McConaughey is, of course, great as the doting and ambitious father, and later capable astronaut and pilot. He’s very much a character who’s fueled by his emotions when the decisions will affect those he loves. He’s the one we get the most out of his character, everyone else really playing second fiddle. Anne Hathaway provides good support, but her plight isn’t quite as focused on as McConaughey’s. There are several moments in the film that have drama and issues with each other, but it’s mostly contrived and unneeded given that the film’s main plot provides enough exhilaration and drama without adding the human conflict.

Jessica Chastain steps in in a good effort at portraying the older version of Murph, while on the opposite spectrum, Casey Affleck’s role as the older version of McConaughey’s son isn’t as needed or really worthy of what we know he’s capable of doing. Michael Caine plays his usual kind of Nolan characters (because, he’s practically in every movie of his anyway) but with a twist, and there’s a character who makes an appearance and creates problems for the crew, but who isn’t really useful to the overall story. His appearance also marks where the film unfortunately takes a turn into a bit of a messy second half.

For most, the science jargon might go in one ear and out the next, but it holds up enough for it to be understandable, at least on the whole. If you try to think about the details of all that’s going on, a headache might ensue. The film messes with time much like Nolan does in Inception to an intriguing, if slightly strange and overplayed effect. There’s just a lot to take in and Nolan doesn’t contain the film’s story lines as well as he has done in the past, so while the first half is really good, the second half doesn’t solidify what we’ve already been shown.

Christopher Nolan has a solid cast, solid visuals, suspense, action, and high intrigue, but doesn’t tie it all in as well as he could have. There is character tension and drama where there doesn’t need to be and doesn’t ring true, however the father/daughter beats feel really natural and more focused, at least for a while. The science fiction is fascinating, but it strays away from that for a little while before moving back to it and by doing that, the plot’s foundation in science splinters a little, the film choosing to focus more on emotional reactions that don’t always work. Interstellar is still an entertaining film, has some good moments, but is overpowered by too many plot threads floating around. It’s good, not great, and definitely not what we’ve come to highly expect from Christopher Nolan.

Release Date: November 5, IMAX release; November 7, 2014 Nationwide | Director: Christopher Nolan | Screenwriters: Christopher Nolan and John Nolan | Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, John Lithgow, Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, Mackenzie Foy, Bill Irwin | Genre: Adventure, Sci-Fi | MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some intense perilous action and brief strong language

 

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About Author

Mae is a Washington, DC-based film critic, entertainment journalist and Weekend Editor at Heroic Hollywood. A member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), she's a geek who loves discussing movies and TV. She is also a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. If she's not at the movies, she's catching up on her superhero TV-watching, usually with a glass of wine in hand.

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