Everyone remembers where they were when Neil Armstrong first landed on the moon, but will future generations remember when Ryan Gosling became the first man to play him on the big screen?
Damien Chazelle’s fourth feature and his second with Ryan Gosling launches with the kind of explosive opening rarely seen in American biopics of this nature, tuning in just as Armstrong breaks through Earth’s atmosphere in one of his earlier missions.
As the horizon fills his vision, it’s hard not to be inspired along with Armstrong and Chazelle continues tapping into that sense of awe and bewilderment throughout First Man‘s running time. By deliberately keeping most of the space-bound action inside the NASA rockets, we too learn what it’s like to wear those shiny moon boots.
Of course, it’s not long before we come crashing down to Earth thanks to an early tragedy which pervades everything that comes to follow, including even the film’s occasional attempts at humour.
Chazelle must be commended for avoiding overt patriotism throughout First Man, choosing instead to celebrate the moon landing with a more personal, melancholic take on one of America’s greatest achievements that will resonate more with international audiences.
At times though, this more measured approach threatens to halt the film’s trajectory, steeping the film in mournful sadness. While this might suit the real facts behind this story, it’s hard not to wince sometimes when Gosling wistfully looks up at the moon for the umpteenth time. Make a drinking game of it and see how long you last.
The cast of First Man is largely comprised of various NASA employees who play their parts well, but remain mostly faceless. The main exception here is Corey Stoll, the former Ant-Man villain whose blunt take on astronaut Buzz Aldrin injects some welcome energy into the story.
Of course, the real draw here is Gosling and Foy, who both ground the film’s space-bound exploits with their portrayal of Armstrong and his put-upon wife, Janet Shearon. Numerous leaps forward in time threaten to disorientate the narrative like the spinning rockets that Armstrong pilots, but Chazelle keeps a steady hand on the controls while providing both actors with their moments to shine.
Although there’s one scene in particular starring Gosling early on that may grab the Academy’s attention, it’s still tempting to argue that Foy outshines him here. Known for holding her composure as Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown, the British actress invests her role with a spirited passion that brilliantly counters Gosling’s more subdued take on Armstrong.
While Neil and his fellow astronauts are pushed to the limit in space, Shearon’s own limits are tested by the men who surround her back on Earth. In one particularly notable scene, Armstrong’s wife is forced to challenge NASA itself when they cut her out of the loop during a dangerous mission, telling them that they’re just “a bunch of boys making models out of balsa wood. You don’t have anything in control.”
However, even that pales in comparison to the moment when Shearon forces her husband to sit down with their children and say farewell to them before venturing off to the moon. Ryan Gosling might be the hero of First Man, but the star that shines brightest in these moments is Claire Foy, firing up like the rockets that threaten to take Armstrong away from his family for good.
Gosling’s role in First Man might not attract the same kind of attention from the Oscars that his turn in Chazelle’s previous film did, but it would be unfair to dismiss the La La Land actor here entirely. Given that Armstrong’s life was defined both by a death in the family and his own fixation on the lifeless moon, is it any wonder that Neil himself might come off as distant or too serious at times?
After the ‘Sailors of the Sky’ work through a dizzying number of procedures in preparation, Armstrong and fellow pioneers Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins finally embark on the inevitable moon landing and it’s here that First Man impresses most.
Chazelle’s reluctance to take the camera out into space on previous missions pays off in the final act as the moon’s landscape becomes nothing short of inspiring, matched only by the eerie soundscape that Ai-Ling Lee and composer Justin Hurwitz carve out together too.
Not since Stanley Kubrick may or may not have filmed the moon landing have we seen this event portrayed with such awe on our screens, although some might wonder why Chazelle avoids showing that iconic moment when Armstrong planted the American flag. Sure, this could have been a deliberately anti-nationalist choice on the director’s part, but it’s far more likely that the flag was omitted to remind us that First Man is more about Armstrong’s own personal journey than any space-faring adventures he took.
While there are some moments that lag and focus too much on procedure, it’s no easy feat to make such a well-known story relevant again and for that, Chazelle must be commended. First Man succeeds on multiple fronts, delivering a story that impresses on both a technical and personal level while also touching on the political backdrop that powered the Space Race in the first place.
Back in the 1960s, Russia beat America at every turn before Neil Armstrong finally landed on the moon. Will First Man follow this trajectory and triumph at the Oscars next year or will Chazelle’s biopic crash and burn before then in the face of future contenders? It’s hard to say just yet, but one thing’s for sure: First Man is one giant leap forward in the awards race that’s set to kick off early next year.
Director: Damien Chazelle; Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Ciaran Hinds, Christopher Abbott, Patrick Fugit, Lukas Haas; Running time: 133 minutes; Certificate: TBC
First Man is out now in cinemas. Book tickets here.
Go to the cinema a lot? Did you know you can get unlimited cinema tickets plus 10% off food and drink and access to exclusive preview screenings with Cineworld’s Unlimited Card?
Source: Read Full Article