I know that I’m a bit late on this one. For some reason, I never got around to seeing Ridley Scott’s latest, The Martian, which was a huge financial and critical success in the Fall. I saw just about every other film I wanted to see during that time, but this one slipped right by me. I feel bad since it’s from Scott, whose one of my all time favorite directors, and The Martian was apparently a very good film from Scott, who hasn’t made anything worth mentioning since his brilliant 2007 film American Gangster. Based on the book of the same name by Andy Weir, with a screenplay by Drew Goddard (a personal favorite of mine), a terrific ensemble with Matt Damon giving the best performance of his career in years, and so many more elements that help make The Martian end up as one of the best films of 2015.
Damon plays Mark Watney, an astronaut who along with his team is on Mars. It’s the not-so-distant future, and as they’re having a run-of-the-mill mission, a sandstorm erupts on the planet, with everybody evacuating except for Mark, who the crew presumes is dead. To the surprise of his crew and to NASA, Watney is still alive, and must do whatever it takes to survive on Mars, until somebody can come and pick him up, which could be as long as four years. For the duration of the film, we cut back and forth from what Watney is doing, how his crew is processing the situation, and what NASA is doing about it.
I really liked how Scott made this entire film an ensemble, since the cheaper (and more artistically challenging) route could’ve just been Damon stranded on Mars for the entire film, and watching that from his point-of-view. It’s worked a few times, but I feel that the safer route is actually the best route for this story. I never read Andy Weir’s book (which according to one of my best friends is a terrific novel), but it feels like a crowdpleaser of a book and a film. The ensemble works so well off of each other, and it’s gonna take a while to get to everybody. Jeff Daniels plays the President of NASA, whose always great in whatever he does. Kristen Wiig plays the Media Relations person for NASA, Sean Bean and Chiwetel Ejiofor play mission specialists, Mackenzie Davis plays a satellite planner, and so on. And that’s just the actors on Earth, who are all incredible actors that are able to play off of each other. Scott has always been a great actors director (something that we haven’t seen much of in his recent films), and this is Scott doing so at his finest.
Watney’s crew consists of Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Sebastian Stan and Aksel Hennie, all of which are fantastic in the film. It goes back to what I said about Scott being an actors director, so I don’t really need to repeat myself again. The standout of this massive ensemble is of course Matt Damon, who according to the Oscar predictors has a very good chance of winning the Academy Award for Best Actor, something that I would be totally up for. It’s been a few years since I saw Damon in a role that blew me away, even though he’s constantly doing interesting character work year after year, but this is some of his very best work as an actor to date. I don’t know how many awards he’ll rack up for this role, but here’s to it being a substantial amount for this funny, heartbreaking, heroic and all around terrific performance.
Drew Goddard’s adaptation of Weir’s novel is one of the best screenplays of the past year. He’s able to blend together the humor and the drama in such a way that most big budgeted films of today have a hard time of doing so. And Scott’s direction (which is some of his very best work as a director), he’s able to put the characters and the story over the special effects, which says a lot since the effects in this film are dazzling and beautiful. The cinematography by frequent Scott collaborator Dariusz Wolski really helps make the film as a whole pop out, which says a lot since I watched this film on my Apple TV at home, so I can’t even imagine how great this film looked on the big screen. I wouldn’t be surprised if the film picks up a ton of technical Oscars (even if Star Wars has a lot of those categories sealed up), especially for Visual Effects, Sound, and Cinematography.
All in all, Ridley Scott has directed a science fiction masterpiece with The Martian, a film that I’m loving more and more as I write about it. It’s great to see one of my favorite directors on the top of his game once again, and hopefully his next film (the sequel to his underwhelming Prometheus picture) will hopefully have the same amount of energy when it comes to his next projects. Scott is able to make a two and a half hour film feel like a breeze, which is a feat that many filmmakers really struggle with. The Force Awakens was a really exciting and fast paced film, but it didn’t feel as exciting or emotional as The Martian did. The film is currently available to buy on iTunes (which is how I watched it) and show come out on Blu-Ray in a few weeks. If you haven’t seen the best film Ridley Scott has made in a decade yet, I suggest you go watch this film NOW.