Matt Damon received his third acting Oscar nomination for portraying Mark Watney in The Martian.
The film opens with just a brief scene depicting the crew of the mars mission before a quick evacuation and an accident which leave that lone astronaut left on the barren planet. We pick up with Mark Watney waking up and having to perform an emergency operation on himself to treat his injury. Damon vividly realizes the pain in Watney as he goes through with the operation, and the moment of brief anguish as Watney finally has time to comprehend his predicament. After just a few moments of soberly pondering his fate, Watney decides to do whatever it takes to survive until he can be rescued. That basically is his most serious minded sequence for a great deal of the film, as Damon, as well as the film, decide to portray Watney as an optimistic go-getter who constantly makes light of his situation. To Damon's credit, he does not go overboard with Watney's enthusiasm, oh it's strong to be sure, but he holds back enough to keep an important idea alive behind it that keeps his work from becoming farcical. The idea being his humorous attitude is basically a coping mechanism to deal with his loneliness, and terrible situation. Damon allows this to be assumed, which is essential, but this does mean the humor element of Watney is flawlessly performed either.
Damon's frequent asides, and I mean frequent, old Mark Watney seems to have a bit of joke to go along with every single thing that he does, are delivered in an enjoyable enough way, at first. Damon, at least in this instance, does not prove himself to be a great comic actor as it does become a bit repetitive after awhile. He more or less delivers every one of Watney's cracks in the same way. It is not that he even had to give a outstanding comedic performance, but Damon does not quite have enough charm to make up for that either. That is his charm does not act as a bit of override so to speak, to make Watney wholly endearing no matter what he's doing. With Damon, Watney does become just a bit tiresome with his constant comments that do stop being funny after awhile. Luckily for the film Damon's performance actually is not a one man show in say the way it is for Tom Hanks in Castaway, or Sam Rockwell in Moon. Damon does not have to carry the entire film on his shoulders as the film very frequently breaks off to see what the large ensemble of characters are doing in back home to try to save Watney. This is a saving grace, since I don't think I personally would have been able to take entire film devoted to Mark Watney and his long line of various science related jokes.
In fact as the film proceeds it jumps to Watney all the more infrequently, and spends more time in creating the larger scope of the world wide effort to save Watney. It still jumps back to him now and again, but it eventually has a cut off point when the film goes ahead one year just before Watney's rescue will be mounted. This limits Damon's performance somewhat since we suddenly see Watney after that one year. That is he's not given the chance to really show a gradual decay in Watney's physical or mental state, we just meet up with him after he's clearly been through a rough year. Damon though is good in quietly conveying the mental and physical degradation in Watney. His optimism, as well as his jokes, are still to be found, but Damon's good in reducing it as well by downright dropping it when he's not talking to a video log or to NASA. Eventually Watney must go through with the rescue, which is still extremely risky. In that it involves Watney taking off in a bare boned remote controlled rocket, and he will basically be flung into space in the hope that his old crew can somehow catch him.
Just as the launch begins, Damon has an outstanding moment as all the fear and pain of his experience as well as that of his present course comes out, but at the time he also creates the sense of a definite joy as it seems his ordeal may be over soon. It's a brilliantly performed moment by Damon as the emotions poor out in such a genuine mess revealing what's really been going on beneath the surface with Watney the whole time. After that point though Watney reverts to his old bag of tricks, even during the rescue itself since at one point he announces that his intentions to fly like iron man by depressurizing part of his suit. The film actually also only briefly touches upon his moment of rescue, as it quickly cuts away to Watney being back on earth quite comfortable with his place on earth once again. Though I must admit I don't love this performance, I can't when I do find it become just a bit grating after awhile, but this is still a good performance which carries his portion of the film well especially in providing the needed emotional weight to the story in some pivotal moments.