Surely, we all know about the historic moon landing back in 1969. It was one of the greatest moments in U.S. history where those words were spoken, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” There are some conspiracy theorists who believe it’s all fake and will dismiss “First Man”, the latest drama this Oscar season, for not telling the truth. But this biopic explores the first man to walk on the moon and a close experience of one of the most dangerous missions of all-time.
“First Man” follows the life and journey of engineer and astronaut Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) spending years of training and risking his life to be able to be a part of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission at successfully land on the moon leading to one of the greatest moments in American history.
This comes from Oscar-winning filmmaker Damien Chazelle, whom I believe is one of the most brilliant young directors working today. His breakout film “Whiplash” is beyond mesmerizing, but everyone knows how much I adore “La La Land”, and it became one of my favorite movies ever (don’t judge). And the word that he’s reteaming with Gosling once again makes it easy enough to put this in my most anticipated movies of the year. Even if this isn’t my favorite movie of the year, “First Man” delivers an intense and challenging follow-up in the director’s career.
Chazelle, 33,’s direction is beautifully well-made and stunning in the way the entire film was presented. He makes it look authentic by looking gritty and looking it was actually filmed in the 60’s. The way that he takes on the storytelling makes this almost like a docudrama. It does get a little shaky, but it made sense when it’s filmed inside the space crafts that were shot with handheld cameras. The film even begins with a flight sequence with Neil’s test flight, and you already feel cautious in many ways.
In similar veins of “Apollo 13” or “The Right Stuff”, they are mainly about the concerns about the mission and not much about the actual men, Josh Singer (“Spotlight”)’s script, which was adapted from James. R. Hansen’s book does make it as difficult as it can look with what NASA is trying to accomplish in those eight years preparing in the space race to beat the Soviet Union. With dealing with Armstrong’s family life, it hits it rough when his daughter Karen dies from a brain tumor and dealing with work and the family overall.
Gosling’s gonna throw in a great performance no matter what, and he’s been impressing me for the past two years as a real, versatile actor. As Neil Armstrong, he’s just a smart, usually quiet man that has an emotional strive and commitment that only a great performance Gosling puts forward as the leading man. He gives a role that’s calm and subdued without going over-the-top at any point.
And then you have Claire Foy’s excellent performance as Janet, Neil’s first wife. Her role may be labeled as stereotypical as the supportive housewife who worries about her husband, and for good reason. Foy does a fantastic job playing the strong role as someone who’s stressful taking care of their two sons wishing for the best in everything. With “The Crown” and the upcoming “The Girl in the Spider’s Web”, she’s really becoming the next Hollywood starlet, and it would be nice to see her getting a Best Supporting Actress nomination.
You also have a pretty solid ensemble that have their fair share of screen time including Jason Clarke as Ed White; Corey Stoll as Buzz Aldrin; Patrick Fugit (always great to see him) as Elliot See; Kyle Chandler as Deke Slayton, and Ciaran Hinds as Robert Gilruth.
On a technical level, it’s nothing short of spectacular. The sound design should honestly win the Oscar since it sounds remarkable when the space crafts are launching and it makes you feel claustrophobic and worry about it exploded or something. The cinematography by Linus Sandgren was astonishing and was the biggest standout throughout the film in each scene presented. Also, there were some amazing practical effects that I can’t tell what was real or not.
Is it worth seeing it in IMAX? I say so. But really worth just for the entire moon landing sequence, shot with IMAX cameras, as it feels like you’re on the moon for the first time. The decision to actually see it on the big screen was because of the four-minute trailer before “Mission: Impossible- Fallout”.
Justin Hurwitz reunites with Chazelle after winning two Oscars for “La La Land” to give us another terrific score that gets better upon listening to it again after it ended.
As many would think while sitting through this, it must be dangerous to be an astronaut. Sure, the training and the studying might set at a medium, but who knows what happens up there. Foy’s Janet has good reason to be worried about her husband surviving these situations. Sometimes we never know a mission is going to end up in which they’ll return and make it back safe, or die tragically. Many incidents have been put upon astronauts leading to deaths. Maybe that’s why I’m scared about space, in general. One of the scenes that really proves that a point is when Neil is sitting at the table with his sons like it’s the last time to see their father.
Not a perfect by all means, but the flaws that come with “First Man” is that it did feel too long with it being 138 minutes long. This doesn’t mean it ends up becoming boring, but it’s slow paced. Maybe it was because it also had issues with explaining the passage of time throughout when it spans from 1961-69. Just seems like it could’ve cut out about 15 minutes to keep it more investing.
And I need to address the supposed “controversy” that the film was tagged with since its premiere in Venice many said that they didn’t show them planting the American flag on the moon. There’s literally a shot of the flag on the moon, so why are some people declaring this as unpatriotic. We really didn’t need to see Armstrong actually putting on it. Probably the stupidest backlash for a movie in a long time.
In the end, “First Man” is one of 2018’s best movies that’s gonna get Oscar talk. It doesn’t come close to Chazelle’s previous two films in terms of an emotional impact, but there’s a lot to appreciate about this riveting drama. Even after his death six years later, we should still call Armstrong a hero. Chazelle is three-for-three when it comes to directing, and that goes without saying I’m eager to know what his next film will be in the near future. But if you don’t mind a slow pace, this is definitely something to check out even if you know the outcome. And without spoiling anything, I personally love the final scene.
“First Man” truly shows that Damien Chazelle is a director that can capture realism in this biopic about Neil Armstrong’s life and the Apollo 11 mission showcasing amazing direction, great performances from Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy and a captivating story.