DIRECTOR: Damien Chazelle STARRING: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Patrick Fugit USA 2018
Part of me envies Damien Chazelle, and part of me doesn’t. I have to envy his directorial talent, and his ability to create emotionally strong works that seem to constantly earn him rave reviews. But I most definitely do not envy his position of having created two modern masterpieces (Whiplash and La La Land) and now having to live up to such a powerful start of his directorial career. However, hearing that he would be tackling Neil Armstrong and NASA’s struggle to have men walking on the moon for the first time made me feel excited for what First Man could possibly be.
When judged against Whiplash and La La Land, First Man is not as singular of an achievement as those two other films are. There are emotional stakes that are fairly well portrayed at times, but overall they are handled more stoically and in a more detached way than in the previously mentioned films. There is, again, a clear attempt at a strong, memorable ending, that this time around is not as memorable, despite having more potential to be so (we are talking about the historical moment of setting foot on the moon for the first time!). The score is also not as memorable or thoroughly composed as the two previous films. Even though First Man is not a music-related film, Justin Hurwitz probably could have avoided picking up similar melodies to themes of La La Land in a couple of spots.
But when we analyze the film just for what it is trying to accomplish, it’s a fairly solid film. Approaching an historically important moment from a more personal angle and shedding light on some of the Armstrong family’s struggles made for a compelling watch overall, and Gosling and Foy are at the top of their games here, with very subdued, and yet powerful performances (especially Claire Foy, who might just be one of Hollywood’s greatest promises at the moment). There’s also a real sense tension throughout the film, due to the risks of the Apollo 11’s mission and all of the mishaps they had to face, and although the shaky camera technique might have been a bit overused at times, it definitely contributed to the film’s sense of uneasiness, especially in the spaceship scenes.
First Man is a very enjoyable watch in the end, even if it neither breaks new ground nor affects you enormously on a personal level. It still made some people in my local theater cry though, so I’d give this film a chance anyway.