First Man (2018)
You’d think there wouldn’t be much of a story to tell here, right? Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past forty-nine years, you know that on July 20th 1969, Neil Armstrong made history by being the first man on the moon. Bullshit conspiracy theories aside, the team at NASA did it, it was a success, so where’s the drama?
Screenwriter, Josh Singer (his screenplay is based on James R. Hansen’s book) and director, Damien Chazelle, wisely chose to tell a much more intimate story in First Man. This abbreviated biopic sticks closely to Neil (Ryan Gosling) as they explore the death of Neil’s daughter, as well as his relationship at home with Janet Armstrong (Claire Foy). This then becomes a kind of coming-to-science story for Armstrong. Neil’s faith in charts, math, and science is lost when it fails his family, so he looks to the ‘impossible mission’ to the moon to restore that faith.
Performances all round are superb, especially from Ryan Gosling and the chameleon-like Claire Foy. The product design and sound design is also first-rate, and the score by Justin Hurwitz is worth owning on its own. You really got a sense of what it was like to be inside a capsule strapped to a rocket in this film. The claustrophobic environment, the sounds inside the capsule, it’s really intense!
If there was a downside to any of this, it was with some elements of the camera work. The handheld close-ups in a few instances were really hard to follow. This, however, is only a minor quibble as for the most part, the pseudo-documentary footage works well, and the whole film is painted with a very authentic 1960’s palette. First Man, I believe, should see some award season love. It’s one of my favorite films this year (top 5 until I see something better) and I heartily recommend it.
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Corey Stoll, Pablo Schreiber
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Screenplay by: Josh Singer
Rating: PG-13 Running Time: 2 hr 21 min.