Director: Damien Chazelle
Cinematography: Linus Sandgren
Writers: Josh Singer (screenplay), James R. Hansen (novel)
Starring: Ryan Gossling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Corey Stoll, Olvia Hamilton
“First Man” is a trip. More specifically, it’s Neil Armstrong’s long and tenuous journey to the moon through the eyes of one of the worlds great young filmmakers, Damien Chazelle. But even less specific is that it’s a trip that comes with a palpitating camera, exploding sounds, a perfect touch from the Hurwitz score, Ryan Gosling in a historical role, and an all-encompassing view of Armstrong.
It’s a freaking trip, man.
For starters, the film is layered in detail. It’s not only detailed from a filmmaking perspective (cinematography, editing, set design, etc.), but from a narrative perspective. Take the sounds of the film, by all accounts, this is what the trip sounds like in the cockpit. The shaking of the exterior. The exploding of the engines and the general unstableness of it all. Next, the characters and performances feel based in reality.
Career performances from Gosling and Foy
Gosling’s performance is the most detailed. It’s not only in the way he’s written but how Gosling portrays how Armstrong behaved in normal conversation. The close to the chest and subtleness of Gosling’s performance really brings Armstrong to life. It’s the detail that makes it such a memorable performance. Understanding Armstrong on an emotional and metaphysical level allows him to step into his shoes.
However, Gosling doesn’t put out the best performance in First Man. Claire Foy as Janet Armstrong steals the show. Gosling the person shows up at times, but Foy becomes someone else. It’s not that, but the fact that she steals the almost every scene she’s in among an ensemble of skillful actors. The film overall isn’t necessarily focused on the acting, as it’s more of a technical film, but the two characters in the focus of the story bring it. The moments after their daughter’s death are real emotion. Both actors show that pain in memorable moments.
Other than that, Jason Clarke as Edward Higgins White was the only other character that stuck out. The problem is there are a lot of funeral scenes meaning characters that are prevalent fall out very quickly. It’s a lot of characters, but Singer’s script gets great character development out of small moments. Unfortunately, with how much the story covers those characters aren’t entirely fleshed out.
Damien Chazelle, the auteur
Entering the theater, I was fully expecting to be blown away by the visuals effects. And Chazelle, in all his glory, brought it with eardrum popping, mindblowing sound and the bold but accurate cinematography of Sundgren. He managed to mix in his signature style through the use of the Hurwitz score and the interweaving of family drama and space exploration. One of the few films that are able to incorporate domestic life with the intensity and stakes of space exploration. The quick editing and story structure allowed for that memorable Chazelle touch through the filmmaking.
As for the Hurwitz score, not only was he the perfect man for the job but gave the film an extra push at all times. The score basically plays throughout, and when those moments of silent hit it’s much more impactful. But the music, similarly to Gosling’s Armstrong, is subtle yet powerful. The combination of Hurwitz and Chazelle, on all Chazelle films (not just First Man), is such a perfect match of creatives. Even in a film not musically inclined, the film moves as if it’s a musical. Everything flows so nicely in the film.
Lastly, this is a great film for the same reason “Gravity” is a fascinating experience. It’s pure, bold, uninhibited filmmaking. The sound of Gemini 8 spinning through space captivated me at such a level that I lost myself. Same goes for the Apollo 1 test scene, that plays as more of a horror scene. It’s a film with so many memorable moments. It’s an impressive change of pace from Chazelle.
See it immediately in IMAX. It’s worth it. Of all the recent films shot in space, none do it better than First Man and it gives us serious insight into Neil Armstrong’s mental state heading into those world-altering moments. It’s not a perfect film, but well worth your time