Review: 'First Man'
The Story of the First Moon Landing Seen from Neil Armstrong's Perspective
There were so many reasons why I was excited to see this film.
I've always been fascinated by space, the space race and a successful space drama goes a long way with me.
Plus, with it being directed by Damien Chazelle who directed the brilliant Whiplash and the very enjoyable La La Land, you have to expect this to be another Oscar contender.
It's hard to know where to begin with this. For the most part, I was simply flawed by it. What I loved about this, was the approach to this story.
Naturally, you would expect to see high powered American's heavily involved in the story and we see how the space race develops at the high end of American society.
However, what we get is all from Neil Armstrong's perspective which was great to see. We understood more about his family and how he was taking in all the media attention. I was aware of Armstrong' humble personality and that anything he did in life was all done very professionally and he never came off as this larger than life character.
So it was totally refreshing to see this monumental human effort be shown in this way. It never felt sensationalized or sugar coated. It felt really grounded and made it more of a human story rather than about the moon landing.
What they also covered was the sacrifices people had made in the build-up to this final moment, and seeing all it just made the pay-off even stronger and more impactful. There is one tragedy that apparently is fairly well known to people who were around at that time. However, I had no idea, and seeing it happen on screen was just crushing to watch.
The performances from a solid ensemble cast all came to the party. While Ryan Gosling's performance is not trying to get attention, it was exactly as I expected as I am aware of Armstrong's very low-key persona. During the numerous terrifying space scenes when things were going wrong, Gosling showed Armstrong's professional and calm approach to situations perfectly. Those moments put the stamp of approval on that I was watching Neil Armstrong rather than Ryan Gosling. It just shows that in an age where Marvel and DC rule the cinemas at the moment, that heroes can come in all shapes and sizes.
Claire Foy was a really big surprise for me. Firstly, I had no idea she was in this so that initial shock of seeing her was nice. But as the film went on, her performance just continued to elevate. But there is one moment just as we went into the final act that was astonishing that could be the scene that gives her a chance of winning Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars. I've seen enough of Foy in films and TV shows to know how she is probably the most exciting female actor to watch right now. But this supporting role caught me completely off guard as the role of the astronauts wife in previous films in usually rather one-note in its execution. But Foy made the most of her screen-time and did something very powerful with it.
It was really interesting to see how Buzz Aldrin was portrayed by Corey Stoll. If his performance is what Aldrin is really like, then it was fascinating to realise that. His personality of saying what you would think of but never talk about made him come off as a bit of a jerk and that was intriguing to find out.
There were other notable performances to speak of. Particularly Jason Clarke who had great chemistry with Gosling throughout his development and gave me another character to strongly care about. I also have to give props to the performances by Kyle Chandler and Olivia Hamilton.
There are lots other positives to speak. There were so many amazing sequences leading up to the event that we are all aware of. But the build-up to it was fantastic, and that just made the pay-off even more breath-taking.
Also during those sequences, it was really hard to tell what was CGI and what was practical. So if that's case then I guess that they did a brilliant job with the visual effects?
The cinematography was quite bold in its choice of camerawork. There is a fair amount of "shaky-cam." However, I think that was well suited with certain scenes. Don't worry, there is plenty of moments where there are some gorgeous wide shots for the moments that would be best utilised with those types of shots.
A big positive to mention is the way they executed the various missions. They really make you feel that you were in the cockpit and feeling the almost rickety spacecrafts that there inside of. You can feel the materials that are keeping them alive vigorously shaking about and the claustrophobic environment. All of that just showed how dangerous space travel is. All of those emotions reminded me of similar feelings I had when watching Gravity. While I love finding more about space, it always reminds us how terrifying it can be.
Also the noise in those scenes were terrific. I saw this in IMAX, and I would highly recommended spending that bit extra to see this film in that format. It really enhances the sound design that I think is a shoe-win for the Oscar win and the images we get were just made to be seen on the biggest screen possible.
While mentioning Gravity, the film also has one particular moment that is a clear homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Be sure to look out for that bit.
The closest thing to a negative is the very end. While the very final scene gives us a nice subtle emotional gut-punch, it did feel abrupt at the same time. But I think that was totally purposeful by Chazelle to make it unexpected. So I would only see it as a minor negative just for personal reasons rather than from a film-making perspective.
This film is quite the visceral experience. Chazelle is becoming quite the director. To do this after making two music-centred films finally shows us the variety he has in his arsenal of film-making. After this, I could see many different films being made by him and his team and for sure more Oscars are coming his way.
I love it that it became a character study and have that independent feel rather than an over-the-top blockbuster and be about the event. It was captivating, breath-taking and I was constant awe of it. I will be surprised if this is not in my top 10 films of the year by the time 2018 is done.