The Martian • Sicario
October 1, 2015
The Martian (***) PG-13
No one’s ever likely to accuse director Ridley Scott of being a warm and fuzzy filmmaker. He’s made a career out of crafting films with largely cold characters at their center and it’s unlikely that’s ever going to change. In some instances—Alien, Blade Runner—the end result was favorable but there are countless other films littering the British director’s resume that could have benefitted from a little more warmth and human connection.
The Martian, Scott’s latest film, furthers the director’s penchant for remaining emotionally detached from his characters and their surroundings and to some level it works in service to the material. The film is best described as a series of incidents as opposed to a fully rounded story with emotionally resonant characters. There are some exciting set pieces and the film looks splendid in all of its three-dimensional glory to be sure but in its more quiet moments I couldn’t help but wonder what a director with a little more feel for the human condition would have done with the film’s intriguing premise.
The Martian is based on the celebrated, self-published novel by Andrew Weir and scripted by Drew Goddard (World War Z). It charts the plight of Mark Watney (Matt Damon) who is stranded on Mars as a result of a storm during the film’s opening act, a sequence that must be noted for its effectiveness. Mark is assumed dead and his crew, led by fellow Astronaut Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), takes off without him. Soon it becomes apparent that Mark is very much alive and we chart his journey to stay alive via his home videos, a storytelling device that allows the film to unspool its tale without having to rely on the dreaded voiceover.
Mark is conveniently a botanist, a trade that proves handy when he realizes that his food supply is finite. The astronaut/botanist devises a way to grow potatoes in order to keep himself fed sufficiently, which solves the sustenance problem quickly. With his food supply in check the only other problem Mark has is patiently waiting on NASA to figure out how to get him back to Earth. When a sudden storm wrecks his ability to grow food in the film’s second act it becomes readily apparent that time is running out for Mark.
The Martian is technically superb in all departments as would be expected for a Ridley Scott film. It’s also undeniably well cast, including great supporting work from Kristen Wiig and Jeff Daniels as NASA officials on the ground and decent roles for Michael Pena and Kate Mara as well. On the whole, there’s much to admire about The Martian and I suspect most will be reasonably satisfied. It’s no Gravity but it gets the job done.
Sicario (***) R
Revenge is a subject that really seems to loom large on the mind of director Denis Villeneuve. Most of the films in his canon (Enemy, Prisoners, Incendies) touch on the subject in one degree or another. Sicario, the filmmaker’s latest, is no exception. In fact, the best capsule description of the film would be that on its most basic level, it’s a revenge tale writ large. Being a sucker for the revenge genre, that’s fine by me although I can’t say that’s what I was anticipating going into the film. The vengeance motif is not something that’s being played up in the film’s ads or promotional material and I’ll not say anymore at the risk of spoiling things. It’s one of the film’s more interesting directions in its roughly two hour running time.
Sicario is defined in a title card at the beginning of the film as the Spanish word for hit man.
Emily Blunt in Sicario
Since it’s pretty obvious that this is a film dealing with Mexican drug cartels Sicario, it turns out, is a fitting title but I suppose DEA would have worked just as well.
The film has a lot in common with Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, not only because of the subject manner but also because it shows the drug trade’s ripple effect on several characters in the film.
This is an ensemble film and all of the actors are quite good. The cast is led by Emily Blunt, an agent who makes a grisly discovery inside what appears to be an abandoned house in an early, harrowing sequence that jumpstarts the picture. Due to her exemplary work, the up and coming agent finds herself being recruited for a larger mission in Mexico by those higher up the chain of command, represented here by Josh Brolin and Benecio Del Toro. It doesn’t take long for the Blunt character to realize that she’s basically a pawn in a game in which she has no control.
Sicario has some great moments and is very effective at times, particularly during its final half hour where everything is made clear and the real motivations of the characters are revealed. Unfortunately, the film is diluted by some gaps in logic and credibility that hinge on coincidence. Those who aren’t looking for that sort of thing may find Sicario to be gripping all the way. For me it’s a solid film though I have a few mild reservations.
The Walk (***) PG
When it was announced that a feature film was being made from the story previously covered in the acclaimed documentary from several years back, The Wire, the question on the lips and minds of most people was a resounding why. Why would a celebrated filmmaker of the caliber of Robert Zemeckis want to dramatically recreate material that’s already been covered about as well as one could hope in the superb pre-existing film? After having seen the new film, The Walk, I may have the answer.
Less than two weeks after the release of the IMAX/3-D extravaganza Everest, there’s yet another reason to make going to the movies a goal as opposed to a casual event. The Walk, as previously alluded to, is a dramatization of one man’s tight rope stroll between the World Trade Center towers shortly after their completion in 1974. It’s a spellbinding event to behold in the large screen format. The film’s last half hour packs so many astounding and breathtaking scenes into its narrative that it quickly becomes evident that this is the type of film for which the term ‘an event’ was invented. Everest offered much of the same type of tantalizing thrills and it’s a toss up as to which one is the more thrilling film experience. Suffice it to say that, if you have a fear of heights either film is probably not your cup of tea. For everyone else, The Walk offers as many thrills and equally as many as Everest.
Much of the film’s credit has to be given to director Robert Zemeckis and his crackerjack production team, most notably cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, composer and longtime collaborator Alan Silvestri and production designer Naomi Shohan. Together they have put together what is essentially a two hour thrill ride will certainly not disappoint.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has the lead role and is very well cast as Phillipe Petit, the Frenchman who eschews a normal working class life in favor of a career as a performance artist. His father (Ben Kingsley, also very good) looks upon his son’s life choices with dismay and tries to understand his son in his own limited way. Phillipe becomes fascinated with the idea of walking a tight rope between the WTC towers after chancing upon an article on them in a magazine. Fascination eventually turns into obsession and most of the film leading up to the famed walk relates how he assembled a team of co-conspirators who would help him achieve his goal.
If the film has a flaw to be found that would be in the somewhat formulaic nature of the storytelling leading up to the climax of the picture. Once the walk of the film’s title sets in, however, it’s easy enough to forget the film’s shortcomings and revel in the entertainment value of the piece. From a technical standpoint, it’s an experience not to be forgotten.
These movies are playing in Hickory now. The Walk opens next week in Hickory.
Questions or comments? Write Adam at firstname.lastname@example.org.