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Media Review: “Interstellar”

For a movie that deals largely with space exploration, and even the possibility of alien life, “Interstellar” feels surprisingly human.

The science fiction epic is certainly director Christopher Nolan’s most ambitious film yet with its sweeping visuals, well earned thrills, A-list cast, fascinating science, startling revelations and plot twists. However it is the characters themselves and their relationships that make “Interstellar” a truly impressive film.

In an unspecified future, although one that feels alarmingly close to modern times, our planet has become nearly uninhabitable and humanity appears doomed.

Resources are scarce, the population has dwindled and storms reminiscent of the 1930s Dust Bowl lurk. It appears mankind has reverted to an agrarian-based society, with individuals encouraged to become corn farmers, as corn is the only crop still able to be grown. Matthew McConaughey stars as Cooper, a former NASA test pilot with dreams of adventure and space, who reluctantly became a farmer. A widower, Cooper lives on a farmhouse amidst a large cornfield with his father-in-law [a underused John Lithgow], teenage son [Timothée Chalamet] and 10-year-old daughter Murph [Mackenzie Foy], with whom he shares a strong bond [which drives the film] and, like him, is fascinated by science and adventurous.

In a last ditch effort to save humanity, a resurrected NASA is preparing a secret voyage through a wormhole in the search of new livable planets, which Cooper is asked to pilot by leading NASA scientist Professor Brand [a stoic Michael Caine]. It’s the sort of opportunity that Cooper has obviously been waiting for [and as Brand points out, trained for].

Yet it means not only leaving his family, but due to the space-time continuum they could all be his age or older by the time he returns, while he remains relatively the same. That is, if he returns at all. But he makes his decision to do so [rather quickly, I may add] despite the desperate pleas and angry tears anger of his daughter, promising to return.

Accompanied by a fierce female scientist, Amelia [Anne Hathaway], Brand’s own daughter, as well as two other astronauts and two oddly comedic artificially intelligent robots [a clear throwback to “2001: A Space Odyssey”], they begin their trek and the movie really starts to pick up, occasionally cutting back to the desolate Earth they’ve left behind and the people who are certainly for the same answers, but on the ground.

I’d like to say more, but Nolan and his brother [who wrote the script together] have certainly made that very difficult to do without spoiling anything. So, I’ll just say that from here on out things really start to pick up, supplemented by an excellent score courtesy of Hans Zimmer.

That is not to say “Interstellar” is a perfect film. It certainly has its share of faults, including at 169 minutes being too long and at times [particularly in the movie’s third act] overly sentimental. The spectacle also suffers from poor pacing and an uneven tone. At times too, the science can seem confusing and misguided.

Hathaway unfortunately seems miscast here, as she and McConaughey appear to lack basic chemistry. In fact, I think it would be fair to say McConaughey shares more chemistry in his scenes with the robots than he does with Hathaway’s woefully underdeveloped character. McConaughey, though, gives a reliably strong performance, cementing himself as a serious actor and proving “Dallas Buyers Club” and “True Detectives” were certainly not flubs.

But it is the always impressive Jessica Chastain and young Foy who give the most arresting and effective performances as Cooper’s headstrong daughter [at different ages, of course]. Their character not only acts as Cooper’s motivation to return, but is also the heart of the film. Because through all the wormholes, time shifts and gravity abnormalities, this movie at its core is really about human perseverance and love. And when “Interstellar” focuses on that aspect, it truly is something to marvel at.

[3 out of 4 stars]

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