Starring: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables), Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Mackenzie Foy (The Conjuring), Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone), Wes Bentley (The Hunger Games) David Gyasi (Cloud Atlas), John Lithgow (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Topher Grace (Spider-Man 3), Michael Caine (Children of Men)
Director: Christopher Nolan (Inception)
Writers: Jonathan Nolan (The Dark Knight) and Christopher Nolan
Runtime: 2 hours 49 minutes
Release Date: 7 November (US, UK)
Christopher Nolan’s greatest skill, in my opinion, is that he can bridge the gap between the general audience and the devout cinephiles. He makes films that can be enjoyed by anyone whilst holding deeper meaning behind them and raking in profit; a true example of how you can be smart in Hollywood and still make money. But like an imperfect artificial intelligence, what Nolan’s films lack is heart: they are full of interesting ideas and intricate detail, but they can often feel a bit empty and his attempts at imbuing emotion can come off as false and mishandled. Interstellar magnifies Nolan’s style to a tremendous degree, but that also means enlarging his own flaws too.
What Interstellar does phenomenally is world building. Earth as depicted in this not-too-distant future feels unique but real, filled with just enough tidbits of information to make the world feel fleshed out and lived in. The film’s themes old vs. new, safe vs. right, pessimism vs. optimism, all feel relevant and fascinating; material ripe for debate and mirrored in our own lives today. The film runs for nearly three hours, but it’s needed in order to get across all of these details and the pacing is solid enough that you don’t really feel it. The imagination and scope of the world and its ideas are what carries Interstellar into being an experience worth partaking in, but that’s mainly because the actual narrative is where all the major flaws lie. The set-up to get Cooper (McConaughey) on his mission feels a little contrived, there are several plot revelations I saw coming ages before they occurred (mainly due to Interstellar’s obvious sci-fi influences like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris and Silent Running), and the exposition-heavy dialogue can often feel like a science lecture. But where the film really pulled me out is something I can’t talk about without spoiling the entire movie. All I’ll say is that after two hours of setting up a world built on sound logic, the third act begins to dive into more fantastical and treacly territory and somewhat goes against everything we’d built up to. It doesn’t come out of nowhere, as the seeds for it were set up beforehand, but it seems out of place from both the story and Nolan’s own sensibilities. Interstellar was initially conceived with Steven Spielberg in line to direct, and knowing that somewhat makes the film’s problem clear: Nolan himself. In a similar vain to when Spielberg tried to make a Stanley Kubrick film with A.I., Nolan is trying to make a Spielberg film but has tried to disguise it as a Kubrick film. In the process, Interstellar doesn’t quite feel like any of those three great filmmakers’ works, but instead a slightly deformed hodgepodge. A fascinating hodgepodge that has plenty of merits, but a hodgepodge nonetheless.
Pretty much every working actor would do anything to work with Christopher Nolan. That means Interstellar gets an all-star cast but it also means a lot of them aren’t left with a lot to do. The ones who do get their time in the sun, however, take every moment they can to be great. Matthew McConaughey feels perfectly cast in his lead role, playing a likable and relatable character but one smart enough to not feel out of place in his situation. His relationship with his daughter (Foy) in his early scenes really sells, making both characters’ motivations soar and selling the emotional beats that Nolan himself can’t. Anne Hathaway gives it her all as usual and continues to prove she is an actress to be taken seriously, but for such a prominent character I couldn’t help but feel she was still underwritten. Her personality and motives were there, but they felt a little brushed over and so she ends up feeling less important than the movie thinks she is. It’s not at all Hathaway’s fault, but it does reflect badly on her. Jessica Chastain’s screen time is brief but she seizes every moment, exuding that same mix of confidence and emotion she gave in Zero Dark Thirty to great effect. The cast is so massive that I can’t go into detail with everyone, but they are all excellent; special mentions go to John Lithgow, Nolan regular Michael Caine, and a certain other actor whose identity I’ll keep a secret in case you didn’t know he’s in it.
Nolan’s other great border-crossing skill is that he can make a slick and modern film without losing the classic ambience all of his work has. Interstellar might be his most effects-driven film yet, but like so many of his movies you barely even notice them. The detail in every set and costume, the acute nature of every shot and every cut; it all creates an engrossing and unparalleled cinematic experience that needs to be seen at a theatre. Commiserations in particular must go to the designers and animators of the robots in the film, which look cumbersome at first glance but are imbued with such ingenuity and life that they blend right in with their carbon companions. My only real gripe is that Hans Zimmer’s score, whilst as excellent as usual, feels like it takes a few too many cues from the likes of Phillip Glass and 2001’s selection of classical music, enough that it often feels like a cheap imitation.
As much as I’ve harped on its many flaws, I do still recommend you see Interstellar in a cinema because of its rich world, abundance of fascinating thoughts, phenomenal performances from the entire cast and near-perfect technical execution. But Nolan’s attempts to be more sentimental don’t gel with his cerebral nature and its third act ends up making what was an excellent film just pretty good. Sometimes, maybe we shouldn’t try to make our machines more human.
FINAL VERDICT: 8/10