Following on from the monumental success of La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s First Man seemed destined to do great things, hindered by an un-remarkable haul at cinemas, it could misinterpreted by some as a failure.
To make this mistake should be cardinal sin.
It’s always a bold choice when a filmmaker takes on a character whose name and story already represents something to the world, something which applies to Neil Armstrong as much as anyone else in history. Telling the story of the first human being who stepped foot on the moon is a monumental burden, and one that without a doubt requires self-confidence and faith in those you work with, and this faith was not misplaced.
From first minute to the last, the film is orchestrated with a mastery that makes it seem as though it is being guided by Terence Fletcher himself. Chazelle weaves his Armstrong biopic with quiet moments, playing with themes that are inherently human and universally relatable whilst also thrusting epic sequences of flight and space travel which allow the viewer to vicariously experience something which most people never will.
The duality of themes in First Man makes for a heavy task for filmmaker and actor to take on, but neither buckles under the weight of it, instead seeming to thrive under the intense pressure and complexity.
Ryan Gosling’s performance is one of nuance, with Armstrong not shown as ‘the chosen one’ but as one of those who were chosen, he is shown as one of many impressive people involved in the moon landing, highlighting its vast cast of important players.
At the root of Gosling’s Armstrong is a person in pain, and this root extends all the way to the moon as he tries to escape it.
As he gets closer to the moon, we see Armstrong alienate those around him, including his wife, Janet Armstrong (played by Claire Foy) and fellow astronaut Ed White (played by Jason Clarke). Both actors bring an effortless sense of gravity and weight to their limited screen time, with Foy managing to express so much in just her facial expressions.
First Man takes
its time to explore everything that it wants to, and at points this can be felt
pacing wise, but what helps it retain its hypnotic pull over its audience are
two things, the cinematography & the score.
The biggest compliment that can be bestowed upon Linus Sandgren is that he makes a scene featuring Neil Armstrong & Ed White walking down their street at night just as breathtaking as Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. His use of shadows and light are particularly stunning, often turning the moon into a character itself.
Justin Hurwitz’s score evokes the sense of a sci-fi epic as well as that of a family drama and does so without making the two seem disconnected. The music consistently keeps the film ticking over, becoming something of its unsung hero.
The execution of something this ambitious is a dangerous project to take on, with their being a wealth of biopics being churned out of Hollywood yearly, but First Man stands apart as an out of this world masterpiece.