The 2010’s have not been kind to director Sir Ridley Scott. After having a great 2000’s with films like “Gladiator” (2000), “Black Hawk Down” (2001), the underrated “Matchstick Men” (2003) and “American Gangster” (2007), Scott has made some of the worst films of his career this decade. With the films “Robin Hood” (2010), “Prometheus” (2012), “The Counselor” (2013), and “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (2014), Scott has received some of the worst reviews and box office of his career. It had me wondering if the director still had something special in him, or if he was going down for the count.
“The Martian” marks Scott’s best movie since “American Gangster” and one of the best in the director’s career. It is a smart, exciting, surprisingly funny film featuring great performances and awe-inspiring visuals.
“The Martian” is a very simple story. Astronaut and Botanist Mark Whatney (Matt Damon) is stranded on Mars after his team of astronauts leave him there after they assume he has died in a storm. Whatney must now survive on the uninhabited planet using his brains, wit, and courage while also attempting to get in contact with NASA so that they can save him.
It takes a great actor to carry a movie by himself. You need a certain charisma and skill, along with the right director, to keep the audience engaged. Tom Hanks succeeded with this in “Cast Away” (2000) as did Sam Rockwell in “Moon” (2009) and, surprisingly, James Franco in “127 Hours”. Thankfully for “The Martian”, Matt Damon is one of the best, most charismatic actors in Hollywood and knocks it out of the park as Mark Whatney. Damon, who for the exception of the “Bourne” trilogy and a couple other films, is mostly an ensemble actor, hasn’t been able to flex his acting chops like he is able to in “The Martian”. He combines drama with splashes of comedy while keeping us compelled every scene as Whatney is by himself for nearly the entire movie. It is great work from Damon and one of the actor’s more impressive performances. The rest of the cast, featuring the likes of Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Chewitel Ejiofor, and Michael Pena, do some fine work themselves, particularly Daniels, who’s career as a dramatic actor continues to blossom.
Every Scott movie has a real visual flair to it and “The Martian” is no exception. Mars is a jaw dropper, with giant mountains, millions of miles of red sand, and a beautiful star-lit sky at night. Shot beautifully by Dariusz Wolski, it looks realistic and natural. This is great work from Scott, who gives us these vast landscapes and expansive shots of space, but also keeps the film rather intimate when it comes to watching Whatney on Mars, the crew in their ship, and NASA in boardrooms conjuring up plan after plan.
“The Martian” is a return to form for Ridley Scott and a new career high for Matt Damon. It is one of the best science fiction of the decade and one of the most enjoyable and fun experiences I had at the movies in 2015.
MY RATING – 3.5/4
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Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox.