The Martian

Posted by Joel Copling on October 5, 2015

"The Martian" is sleek, confident, thoughtful filmmaking of a sort that many healthily-budgeted prestige pictures wish they attained. Flaws and all, this is a movie firing on all cylinders of production, performance, and storytelling, to such a degree that said flaws seem feeble as the movie lingers in the back of the mind. That it is a space-set thriller directed by Ridley Scott (from whom confidence is expected within this milieu) cannot be coincidental. The filmmaker exudes total control over all elements here, and he's helped by a lead performance from an actor put in a difficult position and meeting the challenge with ease and a screenplay that mines the central concept for all its worth.

After a manned mission to Mars onboard the Ares III is endangered by a sandstorm, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is hit with debris, presumed dead by the rest of his crew (including a commander played by Jessica Chastain and others played by Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Sebastian Stan, and Aksel Hennie), and subsequently abandoned on the Red Planet. As Mark struggles to survive by rationing his food (mostly potatoes) and cultivating fertile soil on a planet that doesn't have any, director of NASA Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) and his own, earthbound team of employees (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Mackenzie Davis, Kristen Wiig, and Donald Glover) work out a way to bring him home safely. The only problem is that any rescue mission will take at least a year.

Drew Goddard's screenplay (based on Andy Weir's novel of the same name) is a fairly straightforward one, shifting between Mark's attempts to survive (The science in these sequences makes sense cinematically and conceptually, which is a relief) and the NASA team's attempts to rescue him (plus one fork into the Ares III team's own plan), but through that simplicity of form comes a deeper thematic intent. The best survival movies manage to bridge the gap between profundity and efficiency with ease, and "The Martian" is a very good one. They also demand a performance at their center that meets the challenge, and Damon's heartfelt, beyond charming work here is some of the best in the actor's filmography (no easy feat in this actor's repertoir). The film might have trouble reaching the end credits in a purely satisfactory way and some of the characters might be more than a bit extraneous to the whole, but this is a movie with staying power.

Film Information

Matt Damon (Mark Watney), Jessica Chastain (Melissa Lewis), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Vincent Kapoor), Jeff Daniels (Teddy Sanders), Kate Mara (Beth Johanssen), Sean Bean (Mitch Henderson), Michael Pena (Rick Martinez), Mackenzie Davis (Mindy Park), Kristen Wiig (Annie Montrose), Donald Glover (Rich Purnell), Sebastian Stan (Chris Beck).

Directed by Ridley Scott and written by Drew Goddard, based on the book by Andy Weir.

Rated PG-13 (language, injury images, brief nudity).

141 minutes.

Released on October 2, 2015.