Director: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Corey Stoll, Jason Clarke, Patrick Fugit
IMDB Rating: 7.6/10
Seveno Rating: 8/10
I think I speak for almost all of us when I say that I was surprised to see Damien Chazelle’s name attached to a biopic about the first man on the moon. I adored Whiplash, and I loved La La Land, but I really didn’t expect this to be his next big Oscar-bait hit. I was slightly sceptical, but very excited, about First Man, but I didn’t anticipate just how much it would make me think about the massive achievement that was getting man on the moon.
First Man follows the life of a man who is a household name – we all know who Neil Armstrong is, and we all know what he did. But this film goes beyond the astronaut, looking not only at his career in the lead up to Apollo 11, but also at his personal life – his family and his friendships. With Gosling in the role of Armstrong, and Foy as his wife, Janet, we get a peek into their life over the eight years leading up to the moon landing.
With Chazelle directing this film, it is unsurprising that the use of music is uniquely beautiful. It’s difficult to describe, but the music lacks the over-the-top orchestral theme that is present in so many other modern-day space films (Interstellar, I’m looking at you). Chazelle, once again, teamed up with Justin Hurwitz for this film, who was also responsible for the music in La La Land, and the resemblance in the soundtrack is obvious. It’s very subtle, and sets the tone for scenes without getting in the way, or overpowering the visuals. The score is probably one of my favourite parts of this film.
In addition to the soundtrack, Chazelle once again adds his vintage flair to this film, which is not only set in the 1960s, but has a tangible 1960s feel to it. The colours, the camera work, it almost feels as if you’re watching a film from that era. And the mixture of authentic footage from these expeditions really adds to this cool classic atmosphere. Naturally, there are some beautiful special effects in this film, that just feel so real it’s difficult to believe otherwise. And, finally, some of the most beautiful cinematography I’ve seen in a while in those moon shots. It’s breathtaking, yet simple, and reminds audiences just how monumental a moment it must’ve been for Armstrong (and for Aldrin). However, due to the nature of the film, there are several scenes that are extremely dark, and extremely shaky. And while this does add to the experience, and of course feels realistic, it makes it very difficult to watch, and to follow exactly what’s going on (especially once you mix in all the tech-lingo).
The performances of Gosling and Foy are as impressive as you expect. They feel genuine, and they feel raw. However, in spite of this, and in spite of some of the heartbreaking events throughout their lives, I still found it difficult to connect with them. The film jumps around a lot – its a long period of time to cover in just two hours – and I do feel like this stopped me from really getting attached to Gosling’s character in particular. Very little is done throughout the film to establish a connection between husband and wife for audiences, which is also frustrating. And yes, while there are moments where we gain real insight into Neil’s personal life, it did genuinely feel like more of a historical film about the moon landing, instead of a peak into his life.
All of that said though, I did enjoy this film. There are emotional moments (I may have shed a tear), there are tense moments, there are even funny moments. And there are truly shocking and heartbreaking moments that, if you don’t know very much about the history in this film, will really take you by surprise.
It is quite refreshing to see a space film that isn’t sci-fi, over the top, and overly complicated. And while Neil Armstrong may not be portrayed as the most interesting or men, the events of his life, and his accomplishments, most certainly are interesting. But above all that, the movie really hits you over the head with how much work went into getting these two men on the moon – how much money, how much time, how many lives. And as you follow Neil down that ladder onto the surface, your brain starts to understand just how massive this was, to him, and to people around the world.
And most of all, it makes you feel proud, and it makes you feel involved. You feel like you’re there with these two men, experiencing this moment that no one else will ever experience or understand, and you feel enormous pride to belong to the species that was innovative, brave, and stupid enough, to pull this off. It makes you proud to be human, which is a fairly rare feeling in times like these.