Plot – A look at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
Director – Damien Chazelle
Released – October 2018
Back when I wrote about Apollo 13, I spoke about how hard it can be to bring an entertaining film to the big-screen when every audience member already knows how it ends and mans first visit to the moon is just one of those stories, however, as Apollo 13 proves, if the execution is good and you have the actors up to the task of making it work, you can end up with a film that makes even the most well known of events an entertaining and tension-filled experience.
Hot of the heels of Whiplash and La La Land, Chazelle is a director in hot form and one who’s not afraid to take risks, which is why when First Man, cold opens with what I can only describe as nail-biting and exacerbating portrayal of what it was like to be test pilot in the ’60s, I wasn’t overly surprised. What did surprise me, however, was just how important sound would be to the film and how much this opening sequence would set the tone for the entire film. In a similar way to Ron Howard’s Rush, you hear every part of the vehicle warping and vibrating as it pushes the boundaries of what was possible, followed by moments of silence that feel like an eternity.
But whereas Rush was mostly about man and machine, First Man is a more personal journey into the life of Neil Armstrong (Gosling), how events leading up to and during the mission affected him both physically and mentally, including the deaths of both his young daughter and some of his friends in the program. With Gosling absolutely excelling at portraying the clear strain these events and the mission had on both Armstrong’s mental health and his home life.
It’s not just Gosling who really gives us a stellar performance, but also Foy. The chemistry between the two makes their relationship feel plausible, helping to add extra weight to the emotionally charged scenes that pop up throughout. The supporting cast is also filled to the brim with excellent solo performances, the biggest standout for me is that of Clarke, who started off as a character I thought I was going to dislike, however by the mid-way point I had warmed to him and enjoyed what he brought to the film.
One of the aspects of First Man that at first, I couldn’t decide if I liked it or not was the somewhat unique cinematography, with a large percentage of the film making use shakycam to give a raw and intimate look to the film, however, this also has the effect of making some scenes feel distracted and difficult to follow. The other aspect that you will notice is that the film is given a vintage look with the use of film, creating a documentary feel in places. Now normally I would see this as somewhat of a gimmick to lower the resolution of a film, but here is produced some absolutely stunning imagery, especially the shots that take place on the surface of the moon. here again, the use of sound becomes is just as important to the plot as the visuals, if not more so in places, with silence used perfectly to hit home just how empty vacuum of space truly is.
Overall, First Man is packed with plenty of things to love. From the use of sound, very nuanced performances across the board and innovative camera work to produce stunning visuals. If you can overcome the use of shakycam, First Man is an entertaining way to find out more about not only Neil Armstrong, but also the early days of space flight.