I won’t write a full review (although will point you to Matt Zoller Seitz’s thoughtful and insightful review over at Rogerebert.com), but I did just want to say how much I loved the film, and to recommend seeing it in a movie theatre before it leaves the big screen. It should be seen BIG.
Its devotion to science and figuring-shit-out makes it like Castaway, or All Is Lost, any film that features a solitary performance by a man trying to survive, through his critical thinking skills, his know-how, and his ability to problem-solve in the middle of a life-and-death situation. (I love such stories. I can’t help but put myself in the situation: Would I be able to figure shit out, or would I just lie down and wait to die?)
There is so much to praise (the effects, the story itself: Botany as Heroism, for example), but I couldn’t help but just be so taken with and amazed by Matt Damon’s performance, because let’s remember, the majority of the movie he is all by himself. He plays every single scene by himself. This is like Sandra Bullock in Gravity, or Sam Rockwell in Moon. (I guess one has to go into outer space to experience true solitude.) Every scene has its own energy and thrust (he must do this, he must try this now, he must fix this, he has an idea!!, he tries to accomplish things), and with each scene, each obstacle, each triumph, the character goes through the full spectrum of emotions.
In an emergency there is just too much to DO to take the time to cry, or feel self-pity. You’re trapped in a fire, you RUN, you don’t pause for a second and think, “Oh my God, it is so unfair that I am trapped in a fire. Why me.”
Damon is awesome. His journey, his emotions, his sheer intellectual power, were as thrilling as any action-figure who survives through his physical strength and Rambo-ish fortitude. This guy is a scientist. His brain is the thing that will possibly save him.
My friend and I sat huddled in our seats, laughing, tearing up, saying shit like, “Oh my God, please let this work” or exclaiming, “Oh no!”
A thrill ride. An intellectual thrill ride. Anchored by Damon’s great performance.