D: Damien Chazelle
Universal/Dreamworks/Temple Hill/Perfect World (Wyck Godfrey, Marty Bowen, Isaac Klausner & Damien Chazelle)
USA 🇺🇸 2018
W: Josh Singer [based on the book "First Man: The Life Of Neil A. Armstrong" by James R. Hansen]
DP: Linus Sandgren
Ed: Tom Cross
Mus: Justin Hurwitz
PD: Nathan Crowley
Ryan Gosling (Neil Armstrong), Claire Foy (Janet Armstrong), Corey Stoll (Buzz Aldrin), Pablo Schreiber (Jim Lovell), Jason Clarke (Ed White), Kyle Chandler (Deke Slayton)
First Man is a biopic of Neil Armstrong, though it doesn't take the conventional approach in showcasing his life & achievements. It's fair to say that if you're expecting a cross between Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff, this subverts expectations by presenting a story which is a little bit closer to The Tree Of Life.
The film begins shortly before the death of Armstrong's infant daughter, following which he switches his career focus from test pilot to the NASA space programme, dedicated to both the Gemini and Apollo programmes which aimed to see American astronauts beat Russian cosmonauts in the mission to land on the moon.
Ryan Gosling gives a low-key, emotionally void performance as Armstrong, who was reported to be a very pensive, introverted man who wouldn't allow his emotions to interfere with his work. Claire Foy also gives a solid performance as Janet, Armstrong's first wife and much of the narrative's conflict is with the relationship between the two of them, culminating in a rather powerful scene in which she demands he explains to his sons that there may be a chance he may not survive the mission ahead.
Chazelle's direction is the real star here though, using dizzying cinematography as a tool to disorientate as well as incredible visual effects and sound design to allow the viewer to both feel and fear the perils of space travel. The design of the film is also done with the highest degree of accuracy, focusing on rusty nuts and bolts of the spacecraft rather than sleek fuselage which we've grown accustomed to as the science fiction genre has developed (n.b. This film is not science fiction), as well as utilising realism for the depictions of the missions, such as silence in space and a convincingly accurate vista of the moon's surface at the film's climax.
From a technical aspect, First Man is first class, but it's the narrative which is second rate, suffering from a slow build up and leaving many unanswered questions. It may take one giant leap for filmmaking, but for entertainment value, it doesn't quite reach the heights of the outer stratosphere.