First Man is a unique take on the story of famed astronaut Neil Armstrong. Director Damien Chazelle decided to make a film concerning the personal life of Armstrong, played by Ryan Gosling, instead of focusing primarily on the Apollo 11 mission. Because of this approach, some audience members will find First Man a tedious or frustrating experience. But Chazelle’s film is an effective character study with plenty of great moments throughout.
Gosling plays Armstrong with finesse, proving yet again to be a very talented actor. Claire Foy is opposite him as Armstrong’s wife Janet, and she does an excellent job showcasing the emotional roller coaster the astronaut’s wife endured. The rest of the supporting cast is full of familiar faces, but it is these two that carry the weight of the film on their shoulders.
Chazelle (director of Whiplash and La La Land) does a nice job behind the camera. His clever cinematic techniques add a lot to the movie, such as his decision to shoot the Earth scenes on 16mm and 35mm vintage film. These scenes were shot with shaky handheld cameras, utilizing quick documentary style zooms to give the film a more personal touch. When the story takes to space, Chazelle employs the use of wide IMAX lenses to give the audience an amazing sense of scope.
The musical score by Justin Hurwitz is suitably mystical, evoking a sense of awe and wonderment to accompany the main character’s fascination with the extraordinary prospect of going to the moon. The special effects are undeniably fantastic; the moon scenes are stunning to behold on the big screen. This film is a real technical achievement, and the dedicated production team deserves high praise.
Unfortunately, this is not as strong as Chazelle’s previous two masterworks. The pacing and editing are the weak links here, with a lot of repetitive scenes of Armstrong’s family life. Far too much time is taken up on building suspense in Armstrong’s earlier missions, which are not nearly as interesting as the Apollo 11, which ends up being a short sequence on its own. For a slow-paced film revolving around a stoic real-life man, two and a half hours was just not the appropriate runtime.
Most of the movie is made up of great scenes that do not quite add up to an amazing movie. It does not have many notable flaws, but it does not have any replay value either. There are no big scenes in First Man, it is not a conventional blockbuster nor a pure space movie like we have seen in recent years past. It is not about the moon, but rather about the man who first landed there. Despite First Man starring an A-list actor and being distributed by a major studio, it feels like it was made by a filmmaker with a specific vision. And for that alone, it is worth seeing in theaters.
Categories: Arts and Culture