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The Martian – Film4

Matt Damon in a spacesuit walks on Mars
(Image credit: Aidan Monaghan)

A tense and gripping space drama. 4/5 stars

Tackling daunting challenges with nerdy ingenuity and can-do zeal, Matt Damon’s imperilled astronaut is stranded on Mars in this gripping sci-fi action drama.

Director Ridley Scott’s tense space epic is an action movie that, for a change, celebrates brain over brawn, geeky savvy over gung-ho derring-do. It's terrifically enthralling watching Damon's NASA botanist, presumed dead and left behind by his crewmates following a rogue sandstorm, take apart and solve a series of knotty science problems – stating with the conundrum of how to grow potatoes – as he strives to survive on the red planet. And the various dilemmas faced by his former astronaut colleagues (led by Jessica Chastain and Michael Peña) and by the Nasa brainboxes back on Earth (including characters played by Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean and Benedict Wong) add to the tension.

Scott orchestrates all this with deft assurance, skilfully balancing awesome spectacle with intimate human drama. Though Scott hardly probes very deeply into the psychological aspects of his hero's plight, Damon's charisma and self-deprecating humour ensure we keep rooting for him to the end.

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.