First Man (2018)

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Director: Damien Chazelle

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Jason Clarke & Claire Foy

Review Author: Shaun

Hello readers! after some time away from the reviewing, I’m back to take a look at the Damien Chazelle’s fourth film, First Man. Chazelle is one of the few new directors who recognises the inner workings of how film sequences can hypnotise you. Taking from his past works in La La Land and Whiplash, I always feel as though I am in an isolation chamber where it can just be me and the big screen. The framing of scenes and the smooth flowing narrative puts you in a kind of trance to keep you glued to the screen.

Ryan Gosling steals the screen as Neil Armstrong, much like he does in his other roles, and gives us an intimate performance of a man who appears to be on emotional lockdown. His character is more orientated to getting the job done and letting rationality define who he is. This is a very personal story, so you need that emotional attachment to the character and Gosling delivers it perfectly. Claire Foy stars as Neil’s wife Janet whose role is to show the strain and stress the events of the film affect the Armstrong family.

First Man is more a story of how strong and resilient Neil must be during a decade of constant loss. A lot of characters close to Neil, both friends and family, end up dying and it tests how much of an emotional brick wall he can be when he is chosen for Apollo 11, a mission where he could potentially end his life. During a scene where he has to explain that he may not come back to his children, he speaks to them as if he were giving a press statement and not as a father. The film throws funeral after funeral at Neil Armstrong, begging the question why would he accept a life-threatening mission when he could end up the same way as his friends? When he accepts the mission, his character becomes more courageous in the eyes of the audience.

The biggest standout is how visually unique First Man is whilst undergoing a variety of format changes. There are sequences shot in 16mm, 35mm and 70mm IMAX yet the visual look mirrors the 1960’s setting. the very eagle-eyed people amongst audiences will be able to tell that First Man is certainly a lot grainier than films that have come out this year and that the focus is very soft drawing out the vividness of colours. All in all, it creates the impression that you are a true observer intensifying the scene hypnotism. This true observer feeling is also seen in the films many first-person shots (especially in space sequences) and handheld shots, adding a realist sensation to the film.

The film is going to suffer from a lot of assuming audiences. First Man is about the man, not the mission and this is where it may lose a lot of interest in audiences. There was a recent controversy that the film did not involve a scene in which Neil and Buzz Aldrin plant the American flag on the Moon which riled up a lot of American patriots. Part of me did want to see that scene but looking at the films focus on the man and not the mission, it would have become a distraction from the focal topic.

First Man is a very unique film in that it offers a well known story but gives a completely new insight. It breaks a lot of assumptions and replaces them with a fresh new perspective on the space race. I have a lot more admiration for Neil Armstrong, not just for being the first man on the Moon, but the emotional hardship and mishaps that he had to endure to get there. By treating his journey to the Moon as a sort of remedy for overcoming his losses, the character oozes humanity even if he is an emotional brick wall.

Rating: 4 / 5 green rods

*In Rod we trust

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