Damien Chazelle’s “First Man” takes everything seen in space movies and turns it on its head.
In the opening sequence, instead of witnessing majestic pans and victorious music, the viewer is inside the dark, cramped cockpit with Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), hearing only the thunderous creaking and rattling of metal shooting through the atmosphere, shaking so violently it is nearly impossible to make out the switchboard.
That was the strength of the movie – it took one of the greatest events in the history of humankind and made it an immersive and personal experience. Armstrong’s story in this film is not just about a race against Russia during the Cold War. It is about a man and his wife Janet (Claire Foy) struggling with the loss of their 2-year-old daughter with the onslaught of colleague’s lives at the feet of this mission.
On that note, Janet Armstrong is arguably the strongest character in the film, and Chazelle gives Foy just enough screen time to make this evident. She is the one holding together the young family, functioning as a single parent and dealing with a husband who is distant, both physically and emotionally. That’s the thing with Armstrong, he is never fully at home or fully in space.
According to Chazelle in a People interview, Gosling said of the film, “You think it’s a movie about someone who lands on the moon, but it’s about someone who’s struggling to land on earth.”
Despite the scope of the events portrayed, the mood of most of the film is somewhat understated, yet not lacking in emotional intensity. Gosling’s performance is a far cry from the heartthrob or player roles that have made him a household name, and in the best way possible. One can easily forget Foy’s past British period dramas by the way that she has eased into the role Janet, who consulted on the film with her sons before her death in July of 2018.
In closing, “First Man,” is an outstanding feat, not in its grandeur, but in its smallness. To see Chazelle transform an iconic adventure into an intimate journey is an unforgettable experience and I look forward to seeing what Oscar season has in store for this movie.
“First Man,” is Damien Chazelle’s highly anticipated directorial follow-up to “La La Land,” and it tells the story behind the Apollo 11 mission that landed humanity on the moon for the first time. Overall, it is an astounding film. Visually, it is an achievement, and technically, few films match the visceral action sequences it possesses. Ryan Gosling leads as Neil Armstrong, but the real heavyweight acting performance belongs to Claire Foy, who plays Armstrong’s wife, Janet. The film shows you what Janet is put through every time there is a mission and there is a chance that she may not see her husband again.
Foy does an excellent job (with some help from the score and film’s editor) of projecting that emotion onto the audience. Right from the start, the film packs a strong emotional punch that lingers with you throughout the rest of the movie and after leaving the theater. Other acting standouts include Corey Stoll’s Buzz Aldrin, who often provides well-timed comic relief and Kyle Chandler’s mission control leader. Another thing that sets ‘First Man’ apart from your basic theater trip is how the movie is shot.
The film has a sort of technicolor, cinemascope, old-school tint to it that encapsulates the timelessness of the story. While it is probably true that the film could be cut down 10-15 minutes, Chazelle keeps the audience captive so that you feel a part of the same anxiety all parties involved in the moon landing felt waiting around, testing, and taking precautions. Overall, Chazelle once again flexes his directorial muscles. “First Man,” is sure to get plenty of well-deserved buzz come Oscar season, so go experience it for yourself.
[Photo courtesy of Creative Commons]