Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Patrick Fugit, Ciaran Hinds, Ethan Embry, Shea Whigham, Corey Stoll, Lukas Haas, Pablo Schreiber
RunTime: 2 hrs 21 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Coarse Language)
Released By: UIP
Opening Day: 18 October 2018
Synopsis: On the heels of their six-time Academy Award®-winning smash, La La Land, Oscar®-winning director Damien Chazelle and star Ryan Gosling reteam for Universal Pictures’ First Man, the riveting story of NASA’s mission to land a man on the moon, focusing on Neil Armstrong and the years 1961-1969. A visceral, first-person account, based on the book by James R. Hansen, the movie will explore the sacrifices and the cost—on Armstrong and on the nation—of one of the most dangerous missions in history.
Instead of First Man, the movie about landing a man on the moon should simply be titled Armstrong or Neil. And rather than being a fanciful feature length ad for NASA, it is more of a somber 141 minutes of character study from the Oscar winning director of La La Land, Damien Chazelle - noteably his first major release and third directorial effort after La La Land and Whiplash.
Set in the 1960s when America was trailing behind the Russians in terms of space exploration, the notoriously picky Ryan Gosling stars as American reluctant hero, Neil Armstrong, the first man who walked on the moon. First Man chronicles the journey of how NASA painstakingly conceived the groundbreaking spaceflight, Apollo 11, although interestingly, the human drama is far engaging than anything else.
It is not a surprise considering that screenwriter Josh Singer (The Post, Spotlight) based his screenplay on the book, “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong” by Armstrong’s official biographer James Hansen. First Man paints Armstrong as a quiet ordinary man who simply refuses to see himself as sort of a hero. Armstrong is a stoic man who bravely carries on his mission despite the deaths of several NASA colleagues. The loss of his young daughter to cancer left an inconsolable sadness on his emotional status, a recurring motif in the movie. It is so melancholic and grim that you wonder if this is the right movie you are watching.
For a movie that is supposedly aiming for the awards, there’s definitely no lack of solid performances. Gosling, who has routinely shunned away from leading roles in blockbusters, delivers yet another subtle, emotional performance after last year's Blade Runner 2049. Certainly for a man who has shunned the limelight and hates to be a hero, Gosling’s portrayal of Armstrong seems well-suited; though whether the man indeed shed tears on the moon over his daughter is up for anyone’s debate over a drink.
The only cast member who overshadows Gosling is Claire Foy, the British actress who plays Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown. Foy is 100% impressive, if not absolutely mind-blowing, as Janet, the long-suffering wife of Armstrong. Faced with the mounting pressure of not knowing if Armstrong is ever going to come back alive, Janet is both fragile and strong-willed at the same time, and Foy nails it perfectly.
Still, the movie offers enough technical jargons, countless shots of retro-looking control panels and buttons if you are a space buff. Although its puzzling why Chazelle and his cinematographer Linus Sangren chooses to film the movie in all sorts of awkward, claustrophobic angles (a good thing for audiences to experience from the astronaut’s point of view for select scenes) and plenty, and by that we mean lots and lots of closeups of Foy’s freckles and Gosling’s ultra-impeccable complexion that can be seen on the big screen. In addition, shaky-cams are employed throughout even for basic talky scenes, which is an odd choice for this historical-based movie. In other words, the audio sounds superb in IMAX format but visually it’s kind of underwhelming.
The level of authenticity shown here is remarkable, as the entire movie feels its lifted straight out from that era. Even the supporting cast are wonderfully assembled from Jason Clarke (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) who plays the ill-fated Ed White, Kyle Chandler (Super 8) as NASA's first Chief of the Astronaut Office, Corey Stoll (Ant-Man) as fellow moon-walker Buzz Aldrin, and familiar character actors such as Patrick Fugit, Lukas Haas and Ciaran Hinds.
Unlike Ron Howard’s much loved 1995 space epic, Apollo 13 which featured another NASA mission gone wrong, First Man is first and foremost a different form of space movie. As mentioned prior, it’s very much an intimate study on the central character, Neil Armstrong. It does contain harrowing, nail-biting moments and a soundtrack that occasionally sounds eerily similar to La La Land, but it would be foolish to catch First Man thinking it’s an action adventure exploration flick.
(Done from the perspective of famed astronaut Neil Armstrong, First Man is largely a richly crafted drama which marks another giant leap for director Damien Chazelle)
Review by Linus Tee