I admire actors who can carry an entire movie that includes hardly any supporting cast members – or even none. Tom Hanks in Cast Away and Robert Redford in All Is Lost come to mind. We must add Mark Strong to this list now. His work in Approaching the Unknown deserves high praise.
He’s all alone in outer space.
An astronaut who knows his place.
He wants to be first man on Mars.
And so his thoughts turn to the stars.
“Approaching the Unknown” excels
exploring this man’s inner hells.
When things begin to fall apart,
his “fix-it” talent seems like art.
Mark Strong succeeds in this key role.
He slowly shows the man’s true soul.
We’re with him on a journey rare.
What happens to him? Yes, we care!
Playing Captain William D. Stanaforth -- an inventor, scientist, and astronaut responsible for the planning and execution of sending the first man (himself) on a no-return trip to Mars -- Strong (Sherlock Holmes) holds our interest for the entire film. His impressive speaking voice helps as he reads what he’s writing in his journal or sharing his thoughts out loud. And his ability to project confidence, loneliness, exasperation and courage help us understand what he’s thinking most of the time. Stanaforth’s confidence comes from his previous experience, especially his discovery of how to create a water supply for the nine-month journey. But when something happens to that part of the plan, he tries everything possible to make things come out right. Will he make it to Mars? We can’t help cheering him on.
Warning: Don't expect Approaching the Unknown to be a special effects extravaganza like The Martian. It’s more about the day-to-day problems of a solo mission, but it’s never boring. The cinematography of outer space does wow us, of course. However, it’s not the spectacular type showcased in Gravity or The Martian. In this case, “spectacular” isn't necessary. We’re more concerned about the inner thoughts and feelings of a brave, adventurous pioneer who’s willing to sacrifice his life on earth in order to start the colonization of Mars.
First-time director/writer Mark Elijah Rosenberg took on a difficult project with Approaching the Unknown. The result? He shows great promise as a filmmaker. I look forward to seeing more of his movies.
There has to be this pioneer, the individual who has the courage, the ambition to overcome the obstacles that always develop when one tries to do something worthwhile, especially when it’s new and different. --- Alfred P. Sloan
(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated “R” for language.)
For more information about Approaching the Unknown, go to the IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes website.