A new Christopher Nolan tends to be treated as a major cinematic event, and his new film is no exception. Clocking in at just under three hours, this futuristic scifi/fact epic locates itself somewhere at the intersection of 2001…A Space Odyssey and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. What it amounts to at the end of the three hours (which feels like three weeks) is anybody's guess, and I can't say that I left the cinema any wiser (or more cheerful) than when I went in.
The film is set in the future, when it's safe to say that things have gone downhill. There's a lot of dust everywhere and nothing to eat but corn, though curiously, there still seems to be plenty of beer. Ex-hotshot space pilot Coop (Matthew McConoughey) lives on a form with his father-in-law, his teenage son, and ten year old daughter Murphy.
Murphy is convinced there's a ghost leaving messages for her, though no one else is buying it. But she and her dad do discover a secret place as a result of a message left by whatever strange force is at work in the universe. And before you know it, Michael Caine is expounding on the imminent demise of the human race; the only option is for Coop, plus Caine's daughter, Anne Hathaway, and all purpose sidekick Wes Bentley, to set off into outer space where a convenient wormhole has conveniently opened up just off the A365, beside Saturn. If only they can pop through this space crevice, they may just be able to locate an alternative venue for the human race that has had about as much dust as one species can take.
This is a film which pretty much requires reviewers not to give too much away, and I shall of course observe the decencies. This is made easier by the fact that I didn't understand most of what they were talking about, nor did I believe a word of it. I have no idea if it's meant to represent cutting edge science thinking, or just plain old wish fulfilment, but either way, it is simply a rather thin veneer for an adventure story in space. The trouble is, however, that there's way too much exposition, and not enough adventure. McConoughey is cheesed off because he's left his kids behind and has no idea when he'll get home. Hathaway is pining for a previous space explorer who may or may not be hanging around on a distant star keeping the duvet warm, while Bentley keeps checking the script to see how soon he'll be bumped off.
OK, it all looks spectacular, though you'd expect nothing less when budgets run into the hundreds of millions. But this is not a role that suits McConoughey, who is at his best when he is allowed to be boyish, bad, sexy and cynical, not a heavy breathing hero who wouldn't know irony if it kicked him on the knee. Hathaway is just plain wasted, while Michael Caine (who is contractually obliged to appear in every Nolan film) tries and fails to do some heavy lifting to give the whole project some substance. Only Jessica Chastain really makes the film come alive in a role that I can't describe for fear of giving stuff away.
I was not a member of the 'Inception is the greatest film ever made tribe', and I am increasingly drawn to the view that Nolan has become way too serious-minded for his own good. Where's the fun? Where's the playfulness of Memento? If he thinks that he has become a kind of mashup of Kubrick and Malick then he is barking up the wrong wormhole. Those two were occasionally brilliant, but mostly self-important. Nolan should get back to doing what he does best – setting us interesting puzzles that make us think, not sleep.