Matt Damon shines in “The Martian”

Ridley Scott’s newest is one of his best yet

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Matt Damon in "The Martian." (20th Century Fox)

After the subpar releases of “Robin Hood,” “Kingdom of Heaven,” and “The Counselor,” many wondered if once acclaimed director Ridley Scott, widely known for directing classics such as “Alien,” “Blade Runner,” “Thelma & Louise,” and “Gladiator,” had lost a step. With the release of “The Martian,” I can assure you that no, Scott is about as strong as ever.

“The Martian” tells the story of astronaut/botanist Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) who is stranded on Mars with limited supplies and must survive until NASA can send a rescue mission to bring him home.

The strongest point of the film is easily the cast. About a month ago, I wrote about how Johnny Depp’s performance in “Black Mass” should strongly be considered for an Oscar, however Matt Damon’s performance completely blows Depp’s out of the water. Damon is equally likeable, smart, charismatic, and funny portraying a character who would normally either have given up hope or would be screaming the whole movie (like Sandra Bullock in the overrated “Gravity), however Damon portrays a character who uses his humor and optimism as a sort of secret weapon to survive the impossible: live over a year on a planet without food or water. At this point, I’d say the Oscar should go to Damon. At the very least, Damon totally deserves a nomination.

Other strong performances come from Jessica Chastain (“Interstellar”), Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave”), Jeff Daniels (“Dumb and Dumber”), Michael Peña (“Ant-Man”), and Sean Bean (“The Lord of the Rings”) amongst many others. As an ensemble, I’d say this is the best cast since last years “Birdman.” They all portray their characters with a sort of realism that I haven’t seen in a movie in a long, long time.

Acting, however, can only go so far without a good screenplay. 2011s “Contagion” was incredibly well acted, but it was also about as boring as an algebra lecture. “Titanic” is an admittedly well acted movie, but it’s written at about the same level as a high school Shakespeare enthusiast. This, however, is well written. Drew Goddard (“The Cabin in the Woods,” Netflix’s “Daredevil”) penned the script, and he did a really good job. While I didn’t read the book, I can only assume that the film was a faithful adaption of it as well as being a well written film on its own, perfectly combining humor and drama to create a thrilling story from beginning to end.

Other seemingly minor things in the movie such as visual effects, editing, music, and production design should all be heavily praised for the impact they make on the movie. While watching, I never once thought about how half the time Matt Damon was probably just standing on a strip of “Mars” and in front of a green screen. These seemingly minor things help pull you into the movie and do not let you go until after the end credits have rolled. It never feels as if you are sitting and watching a movie made by a bunch of hollywood producers; it feels like you are watching art.

At the end of the day, though, all the credit in the world should be given to Ridley Scott. Scott combined elements of “Alien,” “Interstellar,” “Gravity,” “Cast Away,” and many, many more to provide a chilling and haunting atmosphere. Somehow, Scott shows so much life in a film that takes place mainly on a planet with no life whatsoever. Scott took the acting, writing, production design, music, and cinematography and crafted it into a well edited, atmospheric and engaging thrill ride that could have been a really boring movie. The challenge was huge for Scott, yet somehow he delivered.

“The Martian” is now playing in theaters across the country and I thoroughly recommend checking it out. While pacing problems do boggle the film down a bit, everything else about the film is darn near perfect. This is easily one of my favorite movies of the year and one that definitely should receive several Oscar nods, including Best Picture.

 

Grade: A-

 

Director: Ridley Scott

 

Stars: Matt Damon, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jessica Chastain, Sean Bean

 

Runtime: 2 hours and 24 minutes (144 min.)

 

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity