FILM REVIEW: FIRST MAN
BY KYLE ARANGO
Damien Chazelle has to be one of, if not the greatest young director working today. Coming off of Whiplash and La La Land, Chazelle has a very high bar to cross in order to top himself. Now we get First Man which tells the story of the life of Neil Armstrong. Could First Man be another great film by Chazelle that continue to establish his greatness in Hollywood? Happy to report an enthusiastic yes. First Man is a fantastic epic about the life of Neil Armstrong that carries you through his life as if you were there. While not Chazelle’s best, this is still a fantastic film that deserves the accolades coming its way.
We all are aware of the story about the space race and the important place it has in history. The United States and Soviet Union were racing to become the first to send someone to the moon. First Man is sort of the story about that, but it’s through the eyes of Neil Armstrong. Neil Armstrong was the first person to step onto the moon and First Man is his journey to that point. This film takes place between the years of 1961-1969 and how everything evolved over that time. We get to see Neil Armstrong at a very hard moment in his life. He is at a job that is very dangerous as well as having to deal with a personal tragedy in his family. You learn who Armstrong is as a person and not just the astronaut. This is what I think Chazelle captured so well. The film basically has two focuses and that is the space stuff and the family stuff. Chazelle balances both of these focuses dynamically to where you are invested in both. When watching events in the space race, you are also wanting to see how the family is holding up. Chazelle never lets the film lose its center and that helps you stay interested throughout this two-hour twenty-minute film.
What will be the biggest selling point that people will be talking about are the space sequences. The visuals are absolutely stunning. You feel like you are on the moon and that they actually flew up there to film it. The journey to the moon is also impeccable. You feel the uncertainty the astronauts and control center feel while they try to maneuver space and even though we know the outcome, you still are worried for them. This is a testament to Chazelle’s directing style and the choices he makes. He takes you with him on this journey and doesn’t let you go. It might be slow at points on Earth, but the payoff is worth it.
Now the character of Neil Armstrong is an iconic figure in history and the central piece of the story so the actor has to be strong. Ryan Gosling steps into the role and does a very nice job with the character. My problem is that he never really blew me away. Gosling made Armstrong appear to be a reserved and cold individual which is what Gosling does very well, just look at K from Blade Runner 2049 last year. Gosling portrays the damaged and cautious personality of Armstrong like I did not expect but the performance never really takes off. He never seems to evolve and that can be frustrating. That is certainly not Gosling’s fault, he plays the image he was told to. This was a directing choice that will work for some but not all. One scene however is stunning where we see Gosling have a serious discussion with his kids and he delivers a performance that is both held back and all out at the same time.
Ryan Gosling’s performance may not work as well without Claire Foy who might very well steal the movie. She plays Janet Armstrong, the wife of Neil and she is powerful. As the wife to an astronaut, you never know if your husband is going to be coming home every day and it requires a certain strength to endure that. Claire Foy delivers that strength and feels like the most earnest character in the movie. You feel for her having to deal with this life she chose and the hardships with it. The family also has two young boys who aren’t quite old enough to grasp what is going on, but understand stakes are involved. Foy enacts that motherly instinct very well where she must find a way to explain this heavy subject with her young ones. Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy are asked to carry this film and they do it like no others could.
First Man is an incredible space movie and biographical feature about the journey of Neil Armstrong. The sequences and visuals are stunning along with the directing choices that will have you interested throughout. Damien Chazelle continues his incredible start to his career, although this one is not nearly as great as Whiplash and La La Land. Expect this one to be in the awards conversation, but I am not expecting many wins for it this time around.