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First Man is the newest film direct by Damien Chazelle, who previously directed the academy nominated Whiplash, and almost academy award-winning La La Land. It tells real story of Neil Armstrong’s eight years leading up to the moon landing in 1969 – Armstrong being portrayed by two-time academy nominated actor, Ryan Gosling. The film is based on the book of the same name, written by historian James R. Hansen.
Based on the description of this movie your not wrong in assuming that this film is reaching its hands out to grab as many Oscars as it can in the upcoming Academy Awards. The movie is chalk full of scenes between Armstrong’s wife and kids that are meant to elicit all feels – something the academy will no doubt eat up, and something the audiences would eat up if the movie wasn’t so boring!
At a runtime of two hours and twenty minutes, I felt every passing moment. I went into the movie knowing that this was all about the human element of space travel. It is not about the mission itself, it is about the human element of the missions leading up to the famous Apollo 11 moon landing – something that should have worked. However, the problem is that Gosling’s portrayal of Armstrong is very one note. He is a calculating and gloomy character to a fault.
Full disclosure, I do not know anything about the personality of Neil Armstrong. Ryan Gosling may have nailed him perfectly, and I wouldn’t know. But it is in the hands of the director and screen writers to make sure that their main character, real or not, is likeable, or at least interesting. Due to showing no dynamic change in the character, all we get is roughly two hours of Gosling sulking around as space missions succeed and fail around him. The only time he breaks this character pattern is when he is actually in space, which is only a small amount of time in this very long movie.
The camera is all over the place in this movie, which actually plays to a weakness and a strength. When all of the shots are on earth the camera is up close and personal on everyone’s faces and you can tell it is hand held. It shakes during deep conversations where we should be focusing on the dialoged and not whether or not the camera man was hyped on red bull. However, during launch scenes the shaky cam, along with great audio, immerses the audience and make you feel like you are in the space pod breaking through earth’s atmosphere. It is in these very intense and claustrophobic moments that First Man shines.
When we eventually get to the moon landing, the film is gorgeous. This is where you get your money’s worth if you paid for the IMAX experience. The entire movie is shot with an almost grainy texture that really puts the audience in the 1960’s. But when they get to the moon the shots are crisp, with beautiful colors, and large sweeping shots – really illustrating the monumental shift the moon landing had on the human species. That one small step really stands out in First Man compared to the two hours of grainy footage beforehand – really driving home that this successful mission was truly, a giant leap for mankind.
In summation, I do recommend that audiences see this movie. It is the weakest of the Chazelle directed movies, but not weak enough to call it bad. Know that it will feel long, and that if you get up for a bathroom break you may not miss much. Just don’t do it during a launch scene. Gosling won’t be winning any Oscars this year, but the cinematographers are a lock for at least a nomination.
First Man gets a score of 7/10. It’s slow, but the payoff at the end is worth the price of admission.
Have you seen First Man yet? If you have, what did you think? Leave a comment below and lets make a discussion out of it.