“The Martian” Film Review

*RUST RATING: 👽 👽 👽 ❌ (3/4) Martians

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The Martian was a big box office hit during its opening weekend and with a running time just shy of the two and half hour mark, there’s lots to enjoy and a lot to digest visually and mentally.

Flash Summary

Research team on Mars needs to evacuate due to deadly storm.  Matt Damon gets hit by debris on route to the ship.  Research team thinks he’s dead, has to leave him behind.  Matt Damon not dead, needs to survive long enough on Mars for rescue mission to come save him.  Drama ensues.

The Players

The Star – Matt Damon

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Matt Damon is at his best in this film, his acting and his physical transformation (even with suspected help from CGI) makes him an easy favorite for the upcoming awards season.  Moreover, even with the majority of his onscreen time being solo, you never get tired watching him.  For example, take the cringe-worthy scene where he removes the debris lodged in his abdomen and then has to staple the wound shut.  It’s so realistically done (with no camera cutaways during the self-done procedure) that you’ll forget to breathe as he digs into his skin to painstakingly pull out what turns out to be a tiny shard of metal…it was so tense that you could hear a staple drop in the theatre.

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Also important to note is the contrast between the similar role Damon played in last year’sInterstellar.  Damon’s Interstellar astronaut Dr. Hugh Mann is worlds away from Damon’s The Martianastronaut Mark Watney.  Damon’s Interstellar character is one dimensional, not fully developed, and prone to long-winded philosophical monologues that detract from the film’s dramatic progression and storyline (often times taking you out of the moment).  In contrast, Damon’s Mark Watney in The Martian is given the entire span of the film to develop into a fully realized, nuanced personality who’s character progression is in tandem with the film’s plot progression.  You come away from The Martianfeeling like you’ve gotten to know Damon’s character throughout the course of the film while by the end of Interstellar you almost forget that Damon was even in it.

The Surprise Performance – Kristen Wiig

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We all know Kristen Wiig as the seasoned comedic actress from Saturday Night Live and blockbuster hit comedies like Bridesmaids and Knocked Up.  However, what most people don’t know is that she’s also a gifted dramatic actress (see Friends with Kids and Welcome to Me).  So when viewing the trailer for The Martian that contained a quick snippet of Wiig (see screenshot above), I was uncertain if it really was her, to the point where I had to look up the cast on IMDB to verify that, yes, SURPRISE!, Kristen Wiig is playing a non-comedic role in a big studio Sci-Fi film.

That’s where the uncertainty and surprise end because Wiig is not only believable as NASA Spokesperson Annie Montrose, she’s fascinating to watch!  While her character’s dialogue is sparse, her onscreen presence and her gift for emotive dramatic expression has made her performance memorable.  Moreover, the instances in which you think she’s going to fall back on her comedic chops, she instead peppers her dramatic delivery with just a sprinkle of comedic undertone. You can tell that she has carefully crafted her character portrayal so that it does not delve into the area of mere comedic relief, it’s a necessary addition to the story that moves the plot along.

The Noteworthy Performance – Jeff Daniels

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What to say about Jeff Daniels’ performance?  In one word: unexpected!  When I saw that the well-known Daniels was on the cast list, I immediately passed over to the next actor mentioned, not giving him a second thought because he has been a consistent stock-player presence in film.

However, this all changed when I actually saw the film.  Mr. Daniels’ subtle yet forceful performance as Teddy Sanders, head of NASA is an unexpectedly memorable and essential role that does more than move the plot along, he adds to dramatic layers to it.  Usually, these types of roles (see Bill Pullman in Independence Day) are created due to superficial character plot progression necessity, but in Daniels’ case, his performance fills the gap between secondary character plot progression utility and noteworthy dynamic supporting roles.

 

Photo Credits: 20th Century Fox

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