Man On The Moon: A Review Of 'First Man'
Even with a filmography of only two feature films, when those two films are Whiplash and La La Land (which earned him Oscar, BAFTA, and Golden Globe Best Director wins), you know there’s a lot of anticipation hanging on any new Damian Chazelle film. So with Neil Armstrong and his historic first walk on the moon the subject of his new film, the buzz surrounding First Man was enough to impair one’s hearing. Written by Josh Singer and based on the James Hansen book, this UIP film stars Ryan Gosling as Armstrong and Claire Foy as Neil’s first wife, Janet. And back as cinematographer, is Linus Sandgren (who won the Oscar, BAFTA, Critics Choice and 19 other awards for his work on La La Land).
Covering the period of 1961 up to the Apollo 11 flight to the moon in 1969 —the film gives us the trials and tribulations of being an astronaut; then goes the extra mile in showing us the trials and tribulations of being Neil Armstrong. Hard-edged, driven, not very friendly or personable, if one had to assign a fruit to Armstrong’s personality, it would be a bitter lemon. And thankfully, this was a time before the advent of social media, so Armstrong didn’t have to be popular, sell and endear himself to the public; all he had to do was get the job done. But at what cost to himself, his family and friends is part of what this film is all about.
It’s also immersive in a big way, trying its’ best in making us feel what it was like to be in the Gemini and Apollo capsules. Thanks to Sandgren’s tight, claustrophobic camera angles, the perspective and POV created, the attempt is made to make us a fellow astronaut, or a fly on the inner wall of the spacecraft. From the early 1961 scenes, super-saturated and filtered effectively, to the more natural feel of the shots of 1969; there’s so much subtle camera wizardly at work, I won’t be surprised if Lundgren walks away again with a number of awards.
And will this be Gosling’s turn to earn Best Actor nods? It a very measured, nuanced portrayal that I personally admired; but admittedly, it’s not showy or heroic in a conventional sense. There are no stirring speeches or life-defining character arcs —rather, it’s a quietly intense attack. Even Claire Foy as Janet is given more opportunities for dramatic outbursts as the wife who’s trying to elicit some emotion and reaction from the husband who’s suppressing everything.
Jason Clarke as the tragic figure of astronaut Ed White is one of the more impressive members of the support cast. And you’ll love how Chazelle highlights in one scene the Contingency Statement prepared before each mission, just in case tragedy occurs.
This is in fact a running theme of the film—the high risk factor of the NASA program, if it was more just a matter of Us vs. Them (meaning the Russians), at what cost of life, money and resources was it happening, and how these astronauts were heroes of a different fabric for never questioning the validity of the ‘space race’. In Chazelle’s hands, this historic moment of world history becomes a very personal, dramatic journey of one man.
Photos from firstman.com