This week has already given us a heart-pounding release with The Walk. Why not add two more great movies to the list? My only problem with the overabundance of good movies at once is the weak summer movie season that preceded this week.
I’m not sure who decided to cast Matt Damon as an astronaut isolated on a distant planet and Jessica Chastain as one who is looking for a way to bring him home, but as with Interstellar, it works.
In a nearly tragic accident on a Mars mission, Astronaut Mark Watney is considered dead and is left behind to eventually get buried in the sandstorms on the red planet. The only thing is, he’s not dead. He wakes up after his crew has already jettisoned off to space and must find a way to survive on the limited supplies and small base. For the majority of his time, he does not have any way to communicate with NASA and documents his days, or Sols, through a video journal.
Meanwhile, NASA realizes their mistake and must helplessly watch Watney by satellite, as they struggle to communicate and find ways to get a rescue mission to Mars as soon as possible.
This Ridley Scott film is adapted from Andy Weir’s 2011 self-published novel of the same name. I made the mistake of reading the book before the movie came out. Never a good idea, as it raises expectations and makes you hope for specific subplots that will never see actual screen time.
On the plus side, The Martian is a solid adaptation. It captures the humor perfectly. While I didn’t picture Matt Damon as the wisecracking botanist, he fit the role and proved to have great comedic timing. Watney’s character knows that he faces possible death with every new day and his journals still show his lighter side.
Fans of the book will be disappointed that the majority of his monologuing is absent from the film. Instead of him talking about his day, we see him digging around and driving, which honestly isn’t all that compelling. It adds nothing to his character. Also, the novel is, for better and worse, a series of story problems that Watney must follow to survive on Mars. You almost feel smarter for reading it. The movie glosses over this on account of the already long 2 hrs 20 minute runtime. The story moves so quickly that there is little time for actual character reflection.
This truly is a mix of Apollo 13 and Castaway. Yet, the thrills don’t pack the punch that Apollo 13, or even Gravity, does. You never truly fear for Watney’s life. It’s more of a travelogue of his time on Mars and the drama that takes place at NASA to bring one man home.
Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean and Mackenzie Daniels lead the operations on Earth and they are fantastic. Donald Glover even shows up for a brief role and nearly steals the movie. The two standouts of Watney’s crew are Kate Mara and Michael Pena.
The Martian may be the Cliff Notes version of the novel, but it is still a beautiful, well crafted movie. The pacing is nearly perfect and makes the long movie feel short. As mentioned before, it may not be as thrilling as hoped, but it has more than enough humor to keep the flow moving, including one geek reference which turns out to be one of the funniest jokes in a movie this year. B
Now, it’s time for a movie that will never make you want to visit Mexico again. To be honest, you may want to stay away from Arizona as well.
Sicario follows FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt). For years, she has dealt with kidnapping situations, specifically done by drug cartels. She soon receives an opportunity to work alongside several major agencies to take down the actual cartel leaders and hopefully bring an end to the carnage she has seen stateside.
It’s in this new venture that she meets Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), two agents who try to remain inconspicuous in their missions to disrupt cartel politics.
Sicario is not for the faint of heart. From the first scene, where a SWAT team breaks into a house in Chandler, Arizona only to find a grisly aftermath, you’ll be hooked in the most unsettling way possible. As Macer continues to learn more about how different government agencies work, she starts to realize that even she, as tough as she is, isn’t ready for it.
Emily Blunt (Looper, Edge of Tomorrow) continues to be one of the coolest actresses around. This role solidifies it. Her range of emotion is amazing and is often only seen in the way her eyes move. There is so much happening around Agent Macer that, at times, I wondered if her character was even necessary to the movie. Yet, it just proves the realism depicted in Sicario. There is no way that someone brand new to this corrupt world would immediately be an all-star. Nor would anyone want to be.
Previous to this movie, I had been disappointed in Benicio Del Toro’s recent roles, most notably that in 2012’s Savages. However, Alejandro is a fantastic character and his best role yet. Alejandro is the kind of guy that sits quietly in the room that no one really notices, but is an absolute observer. He would know every secret just by listening to quiet conversations across the room.
Sicario is directed by Denis Vellineuve, who is one of the most interesting filmmakers out there. You only need to watch Enemy, Prisoners or Incendies to know that he is able to grab your heart and hold it there for two hours at a time. Even with the dark matter, Sicario is his most accessible film.
Thankfully, the brutality in Sicario is largely seen off-screen. There is a fair amount of gun violence, but any despicable act done by the cartels is only seen after the fact. In other movies, you see the Middle East as a land of violence and almost certain death, but Sicario shows that danger and corruption is far closer to home. It sits alongside No Escape as the anti-tourism movie of the year.
Your heart may be stuck in your throat for most of the movie, but seeing Sicario is absolutely worth it. Even when the story goes against what you’d expect, it’s for the sake of realism. Unless you live in Arizona, you should see this movie. A-