First Man arrives in theaters next month to sky high expectations. When the youngest director to ever win the “best director” Oscar reteams with the actor from the film that got him the win, it’s undoubtedly a big deal. Damien Chazelle and Ryan Gosling have come together again. This time, they have made a film chronicling Neil Armstrong’s years during the moon landing mission.
We’re all aware of the moon landing story. This film goes further giving an in-depth glance into Neil Armstrong’s life outside NASA as well. We’ve all seen the glamorous side. First Man offers insight on his family life. It also sheds some light on how much trial, error and sacrifice it took to make it happen. However, the story refuses to dig deeper into his past. What made Neil Armstrong tick? Why did he want to become an astronaut? What was his upbringing like? These are areas the film doesn’t delve into which may leave a few viewers disappointed. While I understand the constraints of time, it would have been nice to have some insight into Neil before the years that went on to define him and give him a permanent place in history.
The narrative moves along at a steady pace, nicely alternating between Neil’s personal and professional lives. Ryan Gosling offers a subtle and earnest performance that’s the very definition of “less is more”. A lot is expressed through his eyes and expressions and he’s entirely convincing. Claire Foy, playing his wife, Janet, is brilliant. She’s the heart of the film and has razor sharp dialog delivery. Some of the most memorable scenes involve her, which is high praise in a film that has rockets and space. Supporting cast rounded out by the likes of Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler and Corey Stoll is solid but unexceptional. Corey Stoll plays Buzz Aldrin whose character is written in a way that may not go down well. I wouldn’t be surprised if the accuracy of his representation may be called into question.
The music, again by Justin Hurwitz is exceptional. The score really elevates some moments in the film and provides the right scale in both dramatic and intense scenarios. My biggest issue with the film was the excessive use of shaky cam. While it gives it a “docu-drama” feel, it’s incredibly distracting especially in simple conversation scenes that didn’t require it. The technique is also employed in rocket scenes. Along with a lot of close shots, the film really tries to make you feel how astronauts do inside those shuttles taking off. There’s a few long, claustrophobic and intense scenes that are masterful in this regard.
However, the film very sparingly uses any wide shots to show the beauty of space. To be fair, it saves this for the climax which is an absolute stunner. Visually, emotionally, and technically, the climax is jaw dropping brilliance that will cater to your eyes, ears, brain and heart as you take in the significance of the accomplishment as well as how masterfully it has been translated onto the screen.
Despite my issues with it, I much enjoyed and appreciated First Man. It was a sincere and engaging retelling of a monumental moment in history and offered some new insight into it. Good acting, writing and a stellar score with a stunning climax make it a memorable film experience and another win for Damien Chazelle who seems to be unstoppable. I cant wait to see what he does next.