First Man Gives Depth To The Star Man
Damien Chazelle returns to take audiences on a viscerally gripping and intensely emotional voyage to the stars with First Man. The film cuts through the exterior of Neil Armstrong’s “all-American hero” image to present us with a more complex and complete picture that is sure to inspire with awe.
The film tells the riveting story of NASA's mission to land a man on the moon, focusing on Neil Armstrong and the years 1961-1969. A visceral, first-person account, based on the book by James R. Hansen, First Man explores the sacrifices and the cost on Armstrong and the nation during one of the most dangerous missions in history.
For a film that’s all about space exploration, there sure is a down-to-earth quality about it that can’t be ignored; even in the depths of space, we are kept tethered to planet Earth. More about grief and loneliness than it is about how we reached the moon, First Man shows us that great human achievement is built upon even greater human loss, and that sentiment undulates throughout the entirety of this engrossing character study.
Chazelle literally drops us into the story during Armstrong’s perilous X-15 test flight, and he doesn’t release the viewer from his grip until the credits roll — and even then you may be transfixed (or bawling). His choice to go handheld throughout the majority of this space race brings us in close to the action, making us feel as though we’re there with Neil through it all, but it isn’t always 100% effective, or as calculated as his previous efforts. It does, however, punctuate the smooth, elegant and mostly silent moments in space and make them that much more rewarding.
The film has great narrative depth, and it’s captivating in every sense of the word. It brings us into these astronauts’ lives with the force of jet propulsion, heightening the triumph by underscoring the missions many hardships and the toll it takes on the nuclear family. There’s so much tragedy below the surface of Neil’s impassive visage that we don’t really discuss, and Chazelle delicately pulls back the layers to present us with a fully rounded portrait of the star man.
Being a character-driven film, a lot of weight is placed on the actors, who all give gravity-defying performances. Ryan Gosling brings Armstrong into poignant reality and does wonders with silence and stoicism. Claire Foy is an absolute powerhouse and dominates the screen whenever she’s present, delivering a peerless supporting performance that should prove fruitful come award season.
Chazelle packs in a few nods to Stanley Kubrick on more than one occasion to pay homage to the man who truly took us on the definitive space voyage in 1968, a year before the moon landing was even a tangible reality. In particular, the docking sequence, as well as the way Chazelle plays with reflected light (as exhibited above) and shoots the space sequences, will remind film fanatics of 2001: A Space Odyssey; however, the film is singularly Chazelle’s, and he conveys the perils and exhilarations of spaceflight with top-notch artistry.
The technical mastery on display here is absolutely dazzling (on par with Bladerunner 2049 and Dunkirk), and it makes you feel as if you’re an astronaut on this harrowing and beautiful journey that traverses both inner and outer space. Accentuated by a phenomenally passionate score from Justin Hurwitz that gives the film a strong pulse, First Man is very nearly the complete package. This is yet another film this year that you absolutely must experience on the biggest screen.
Rating: 4.5 moon walks outta 5.
What do you think? Were you surprised by the tragedy in Armstrong’s life? Did the film make you feel like an astronaut? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!