Movie review: Dad's bond with child the heart of Interstellar

Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway (both above) play space pilots in Interstellar, whose mission to find a suitable place for human habitation causes them to experience time differently. Jessica Chastain (left) plays his daughter who grows up in t
Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway (both above) play space pilots in Interstellar, whose mission to find a suitable place for human habitation causes them to experience time differently. Jessica Chastain (left) plays his daughter who grows up in the meantime.PHOTOS: WARNER BROS

Review Science-fiction drama

INTERSTELLAR (PG13)

169 minutes/Opens tomorrow/***1/2

The story: The future is here and it is a dismal one. Massive dust storms threaten food production, hope is running out. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is recruited as a pilot for a last-ditch space mission to find a planet suitable for human habitation. The crew includes scientist Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) and a robot, Tars (Bill Irwin). One consequence of interstellar and wormhole travel is that time passes differently for those out in space. Cooper's daughter Murph (Jessica Chastain) grows up and assists Amelia's father, Professor Brand (Michael Caine), with the mission back on earth.

No shortage of motivational speakers have said that you should reach for the moon because even if you miss, you will land among the stars.

Director Christopher Nolan has learnt the lesson well. There is no lack of ambition in his space odyssey; in certain parts, in fact, you can almost feel the movie striving for monumentality in every frame. While it eventually falls short, it is still a work that holds your attention as you are watching it.

The themes and topics here are as grand as they get - mankind's thirst for exploration, the survival instinct, the question of what exactly is out there in space and love.

Expectations are high because Nolan is one of the most vital story-tellers in cinema today. There is always the sense of someone highly intelligent behind the camera, from the intricately plotted stories to his refusal to spell everything out. And, as seen in the Dark Knight trilogy (2005-2012) and the mind-blowing thriller Inception (2010), he is no stranger to working on an epic canvas.

But with Interstellar, wormholes and black holes suddenly feel like too-convenient plot devices to propel the story in a certain direction. And the relativity effect of visiting a particular planet keeps getting repeated, that one hour equals seven years. One might have thought that this was a detail that would have been taken into consideration from the start.

More than once, the audience is asked to take a huge leap of faith with where the film is headed.

Good thing that it is Matthew McConaughey in the lead role of the space pilot Cooper, asking us to make that jump. Is it the intensity of his deep-set gaze, that mesmerising drawl or the sharpness of his cheekbones - or a combination of all that - that is making him one of the most compelling actors to watch?

He has gone from cut-rate romantic comedies leading man to acclaimed turns on the big and small screen in stripper flick Magic Mike (2012), Aids drama Dallas Buyers Club (2013) and crime thriller True Detective (2014). It is a remarkable turnaround that shows no signs of slowing down.

Early on, when Interstellar goes from being a cautionary tale about man's destructive nature to a space mission movie, the process it takes to convince Cooper to join the mission helps the audience buy into the film and take a stake in it as well.

In depicting the mission to find out which planet among three possibilities is capable of sustaining life, Nolan packs in surprises, visual beauty and much welcome moments of lightness, thanks to the inclusion of robots whose truth and humour settings are adjustable.

When the tiny spacecraft is juxtaposed against the immensity of the cosmos, it underlines the puny nature and fragility of human life and endeavour.

At his best, Nolan made films that you kept playing over and over in your head. Psychological thriller Memento (2000) and Inception made you question what you thought you knew.

But Interstellar - with clunky dialogue that conveys different viewpoints rather than what the characters are feeling - holds up less well in the harsh light of day.

What ultimately anchors the film is the bond between parent and child.

Unlike the mawkish treatment that bond was given in the Oscar- winning sci-fi thriller Gravity (2013), the fierce love between Cooper and Murph is at the very heart of Interstellar.