MOVIE REVIEW: “First Man” stars Ryan Gosling (Lars and the Real Girl, La La Land), Claire Foy (Unsane, The Girl in the Spider’s Web), Jason Clarke (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Great Gatsby ), Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights [TV series], Manchester by the Sea), Corey Stoll (Ant-Man, Black Mass), Patrick Fugit (Gone Girl, Almost Famous), Christopher Abbott (James White, It Comes At Night), Olivia Hamilton (Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot, The Last Tycoon [TV series]), Luke Winters, Connor Blodgett, and Lucy Stafford. It is directed by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash , La La Land), while the screenplay was written by Josh Singer (The Post, Spotlight). Based on a true story, this film follows the life of Neil Armstrong (Gosling) and his involvement with NASA, leading up to his first steps on the moon, all while threading in the tragic events surrounding his life leading up to that moment, including the death of his child daughter Karen (Stafford).
Damien Chazelle takes a break from the music to give us something unexpected: a space movie. But not just a space movie, no: a Neil Armstrong movie. And who better to cast as the infamous moonwalker than our very own Ryan Gosling? Seriously folks, this is a genius pair, and a really good feature at that. “First Man” was better than I expected. To be quite honest, I’m not naturally inclined to watch films regarding astronauts. I feel like it’s a tired horse of a concept, and it’s what caused me to miss out on this in the theaters. However, what I didn’t know was how much this isn’t an astronaut movie, but a person movie. “First Man” sinks into the sad life of Neil Armstrong during the 60s space race, with many failed tests and deaths too close to home. I didn’t expect it, and to be honest, I’m glad I didn’t. Walking in blind (besides seeing a few promos and a trailer) made for an interesting viewing experience; one that should be given attention. I first want to put it out there that I didn’t believe this to be a brilliant film; it’s certainly not Chazelle’s best work, nor his second best (“La La Land” and “Whiplash” are too hard to top), however it does a lot of things right. First, the atmosphere. Boy, do I love period pieces (as I do), and they hit the nail on the head with the aesthetics in this one. The clothing, cars, houses, everything is beautiful, and the cinematography tailors to this. What I found to be the most interesting about this is how old it looks; it was mostly shot on 16mm, giving a grainy, yet personable look to this film on the human condition. I loved how this movie looked overall, and would give it high praise for that alone. Second, the performances were fantastic. Everyone came to play, and put on their A-games in the best way. It’s hard to go wrong with Gosling, and he shines in this picture. He did a phenomenal job, as did his co-stars, the likes including Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, and Kyle Chandler. Everybody knocked it out of the park, and made for a genuine experience. Lastly, the score and sound design are phenomenal. Justin Hurwitz does a great job molding this piece together with his amazing score, and the sound design puts it over the edge, immersing us in this world and knowing when to put us on the edge. The various moments of silence or sound getting cut off were the most chilling. Overall, it’s a technically beautiful film that does what you’d expect from Chazelle. Now let’s talk about story. I think what I loved most about this story is how dangerous it makes being an astronaut look. There are so many failures shown in this flick, some of which costing the lives of a few astronauts. This stuff isn’t easy, and I was certainly put on edge every time these astronauts got into the crammed spaces of the ships for take-off. You’re essentially in a small aluminum can, rattling about as you get launched into space; it’s hectic guys. Another thing they did well was capture the overall emotion. This story takes you on a sad journey of being able to move on. Armstrong’s biggest issue to deal with was the loss of his daughter Karen. His journey was to get over her, and it was rough to see at times. Death is a very sorrowful thing to see in cinema, and there’s plenty of it in this; enough to discourage any audience member from wanting the main character to push forward. But he does, making him the big hero in the end. Yeah, there’s a controversy involving the absence of a shot of the American flag not being planted; and I agree, it’s bull that it wasn’t included. Maybe if the sole focus was on Armstrong and his kid, I may have not batted an eye, but clearly there was a huge sub-plot going on of the space race and beating the soviets, so… why not just put the shot in? You got me. At least they showed the flag planted in its spot in a wide shot. Otherwise, the filmmakers would’ve been in even way more trouble. Besides that, the only cons I have about the story lie in its overall structure. There’s not much to this movie outside of the parts where Armstrong does tests towards Apollo 1 and family dilemmas. All that’s shown is time jumping to various funerals and dialogue sequences where some can seem to be dry. It’s not a lot, but enough to warrant a response. The pacing itself is pretty quick, but when you’re jumping through time and watching a film centered around moments rather than a small string of time, things can seem a bit more abstract than they would otherwise. It didn’t cost the movie too much of its points; honestly, I’d recommend this to people looking for something interesting to watch. There’s plenty to admire about “First Man” and I enjoyed my time watching it. FINAL SCORE: 89%= Juicy Popcorn
Here is the trailer: