‘Interstellar’ is a sci-fi mix of pragmatism vs. sentimentality

By Todd Perkins, Staff Movie Reviewer

Christopher Nolan has established himself as a master filmmaker. After making “Memento” and “The Dark Knight”, he challenged conventional filmmaking by not only altering expectations regarding certain genres such as mystery/thriller and superhero movies, but by also inserting philosophical concepts into his stories in a way that both surprised and provoked audiences.

With “Inception” Nolan created a brand that guaranteed both style and substance, and this is the key to the successfulness of his films.

Now comes his latest film “Interstellar”, a work that features his biggest landscape to date while also containing one of the more emotional and sentimental storylines of all his films.

Matthew McConaughey stars as Cooper, an ex NASA pilot who now works as a farmer in a time where Earth has rejected its crops resulting in severe world hunger. After discovering a secret team of NASA scientists working on a last effort to save mankind, he is selected to join a group consisting of Dr. Brand (Anne Hathaway), Dr. Romilly (David Gyasi), Dr. Doyle (Wes Bentley), and a robot called TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) to find a planet in another solar system that is suitable for sustaining human life.

The film is a visual spectacle of special effects, practical and digital locations, and emotion. Nolan knows how to showcase the visual effects in a way that is simultaneously dazzling and unnoticeable, the CGI elements seamlessly blend in.

What he does best is he encompasses the actors within the visuals in a way that depends on both to tell a story rather than solely relying on one. It is common place for a filmmaker to use actors and dialogue to carry the audience through a story, but Nolan allows his visuals to stand out rather than bury his picture with expositional hodgepodge.

Though this is an effects heavy movie, there is plenty for the actors to do. McConaughey is terrific as Cooper, an everyman put through extraordinary circumstances. It would be easy for an actor to blend into the action and high-concept science fiction, but he steers the emotional focus onto his character and his desperate attempt to return to Earth to see his children. Hathaway and company are also solid in their respective roles even if they are given less to do. Michael Caine is given his obligatory supporting role, this being his sixth appearance in a Nolan film, as the scientist who sends the astronauts on their mission. He manages to do something slightly different with the part than viewers would initially expect. Other standouts include John Lithgow, Ellen Burstyn, and Jessica Chastain, who give a subtly powerful performance with very little screen time.

Being completely honest, this is not Christopher Nolan’s best film. There is a constant fight between pragmatism and sentimentality throughout, and the director allows for the emotional elements to fully take over during the last act of the film, which feels rather jolting for viewers. Despite a brilliant reliance on visuals, there are still moments that rely heavily on exposition. This comes across as unrealistic as these are scientists discussing basic concepts with other scientists, and there is one staggeringly surprising plot point that should have been done away with altogether. Even though there are flaws, with amazing its special effects, stellar performances, and an intelligent sci-fi premise that channels Spielberg, Kubrick, and Tarkovsky, it is easy to see that “Interstellar” is still a masterpiece.