Posted by Joel Copling on November 7, 2014

Ambition often comes at the expense of perfection, so when this review states that "Interstellar" succeeds due to a high level of ambition, that comes with the requisite missteps, too. This is a big film, made of enormous ideas and with diamantine precision, and director Christopher Nolan, who wrote the screenplay with his brother Jonathan, treats it as the event that it is. The film is 169 dense minutes of exposition and complex science involving everything from the mechanics of gravity to the operation of time (both within the context and space of a wormhole). Fortunately, when it isn't explaining this science, there is a moving account of what occurs when three hours within a wormhole spans to more than two decades on the other side of it.

Those traveling into the wormhole are led there by Cooper (Matthew McConaughey, whose character's first name is never revealed for some reason), in a previous life one of the best pilots ever to have served his country. Now, though, the world is a desolate wasteland, its nutrients drying up pretty quickly. Only corn remains a viable vegetable to harvest, and who knows how long that will last. "We must face the reality that nothing in our solar system can help us," says Professor Brand (Michael Caine), to whom Cooper was once a student. The conclusion is that we must leave our planet. Plan "A" involves the hopeful discovery of a planet that might support life by traveling through a newly discovered wormhole (through which a new galaxy has been glimpsed) right on the other side of Saturn and transporting humans onto it. Plan "B" is to inhabit the discovered planet with life that scientists have manufactured from living ova and sperm.

Accompanying him on the mission are a gaggle of fellow astronauts, including Romilly (David Gyasi), Professor Brand's daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), Doyle (Wes Bentley), and a pair of identical, wise-cracking robots named TARS and CASE (who have the physical appearance of ATM machines but a surprising dexterity of movement) voiced rather brilliantly by Bill Irwin and Josh Stewart. Problems arise quickly, such as when a wave with the height and length of a mountain range dispatches one of their crew (It's more a testament to the actor's willingness to humanize a throwaway character than to the Nolans' writing of him that this actually had an impact) while another ages an entire 23 years while waiting in the ship, as well as an encounter with another explorer played by Matt Damon that doesn't go as smoothly as expected.

It's back on Earth where the wobblier aspects of the Nolans' narrative are located. Cooper's daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) resents him for leaving her for an indeterminate amount of time and, as an older woman (Jessica Chastain), nurses that grudging resentment. His son Tom (Timothee Chalamet) inherits his father's truck and, as an older man (Casey Affleck), sends his father's messages to which he feels the father is no longer listening. Murphy teams up with Professor Brand and another scientist (Topher Grace, who seems happy to be here), while Tom takes over the job of caring for the plantlife (Affleck and Chalamet are solid but swallowed up by the ineffective, sometimes dubious writing of the character).

But no matter: The film may stumble while back on Earth (though the stretch with Damon's long-lost explorer is pretty chaotic), but "Interstellar" soars in its own exploration of its ambitious themes and superb aesthetic accomplishments. Nolan shot on film in an age when digital reigns, and the cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema (taking over where Nolan regular Wally Pfister, whose own directorial debut released this year, left off) is some of the year's finest as a result. The in-camera visual effects (There was reportedly no use of greenscreen) are downright seamless, a late scene in which Cooper enters a black hole in space particularly impressive, while Hans Zimmer's blustering, synth-heavy score is as reliably majestic as always. But "Interstellar" is a film of ideas, and those ideas are really quite something.

Film Information

Matthew McConaughey (Cooper), Anne Hathaway (Amelia), Jessica Chastain (Murphy), David Gyasi (Romilly), Wes Bentley (Doyle), Michael Caine (Professor Brand), Mackenzie Foy (Younger Murphy), Matt Damon (Dr. Mann), Casey Affleck (Tom), John Lithgow (Donald), Topher Grace (Getty), Timothee Chalamet (Younger Tom), Ellen Burstyn (Older Murphy).

Featuring the voices of Bill Irwin (TARS) and Josh Stewart (CASE).

Directed by Christopher Nolan and written by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan.

Rated PG-13 (intense perilous action, brief language).

169 minutes.

Released on November 7, 2014.