The oldest Best Director Oscar winner was Clint Eastwood at the age of 74. Could Ridley Scott best him at the age of 77?
With The Martian, Ridley Scott returns to outer space, a genre where he is in complete command. Let me just say without hesitation that this film is every bit as good as his classic Alien (1979).
In short, the movie focuses on a group of astronauts forced to leave Mars during a violent storm, leaving behind a comrade who is presumed dead. But their abandoned colleague survives, and he is left to try to produce enough food and water to have a chance of being rescued. Knowing that it will be likely be years before another space ship can return, his prospects are bleak.
Matt Damon does a wonderful job playing Mark Watney, the astronaut left on Mars. This is not Mr. Damon’s first role where he has been left struggling in outer space (i.e., Elysium and Interstellar), so it helped him to bring a sense of realism as he combined his botany expertise with a biting sense of humor.
Jessica Chastain is once again a standout, here playing the space ships commander. Having also starred with Mr. Damon in Interstellar, it is impossible not to stay focused on her as you watch her character wrestle with grief as she leaves a supposed dead teammate behind in order to save the rest of the crew.
Quite frankly, this film dances on the edge of greatness due in large part to a magnificent cast. While an equally large group of talented performers lacked the ability to save Everest, that is not the case here.
Jeff Daniels personifies a NASA leader who suffers from having spent too much time in front of a camera. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Sean Bean are exceptional as NASA men working under Daniels who are dedicated to bringing Damon back once they discover that he is alive. It is worth noting that Mr. Ejiofor was magnificent in both Kinky Boots (2005) and last year’s 12 Years a Slave while Mr. Bean has to be remembered as the first member of Gandalf’s small group to die in the classic The Lord of the Rings (2001).
But the performances don’t stop there. Sebastian Stan is memorable in his role as one of the crew members, while Mackenzie Davis and Kristin Wiig play important roles as employees of NASA. On top of that, Michael Peña once again stands out in a small role working under Ms. Chastain, and it is worth remembering his absolutely hysterical performance in the largely overlooked Ant-Man.
Yes, the movie lasts over 2 hours and 20 minutes so forgive me when I also single out the performance of Donald Glover, here playing a young, eccentric NASA intellectual who develops a theory to rescue Damon. He is colossally funny as well as thoughtful, and this is an actor who deserves to be remembered.
Mr. Scott joins Robert Zemeckis as one of the great directors in the history of Hollywood. His films ranging from Blade Runner (1992) to Thelma and Louise (1991) to Gladiator (2000) are recognized classics. How many people in any industry can claim such accomplishments while continuing to actively work at the age of 77?