Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Corey Stoll, Jason Clarke
Director: Damien Chazelle
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: On the heels of their six-time Academy Award (R)-winning smash, La La Land, Oscar (R)-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.
Another October weekend, another weekend with a wide release from a critically acclaimed director and his star-studded cast. Chazelle has been one of my favorite directors of the last five years, and films like Whiplash stuck with me for much longer than I anticipated. While Chazelle has written all of his previous films, this is his first attempt at exclusively directing a movie. The film was written by Best Original Screenplay winner Josh Singer, so by no means is the script downgraded without Chazelle in the writer’s room. While personally my least favorite of Chazelle’s films, First Man is led by outstanding performances by Gosling and Foy, an effective use of an IMAX camera, and a story that makes you appreciate all of the effort that went into our space program in the 1960s.
The film follows Neil Armstrong (Gosling) as he attempts to become the first man to successfully land on the Moon. This movie details the struggles of this landing; from the lives lost in the process, the complex science behind the space program, and the emotional toll that it had on Armstrong and his family. Starting with the acting, while Gosling is certainly spectacular in the lead role, Foy is the one who truly shines in her performance as Neil’s wife Janet. I cannot imagine the emotional toll that she was placed in having to watch her husband potentially die trying to become the first man in space, and she is able to perfectly show us just how Janet handled that stress and the consequences that happened to her marriage. Gosling, on the other hand, beautifully shows us the first-hand perspective of one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of mankind. As someone who was not alive during this time period, you never really learn about all of the failures that the space program had as well as the amount of work that went into putting a man on the Moon. We are taught that these events went pretty flawlessly, but I had no idea about many of the struggles that went into this program as well as the intense level of training that Armstrong had to go through to prepare for these missions. Gosling gives a sincere and honest look into this process and the amount of anxiety that these moments had on the Armstrong family and this movie would not have been as successful without his and Foy’s performances. Regarding the story, historical dramas can sometimes run into trouble where moments are not tense because we already know the outcome. Chazelle being the masterclass director that he is has no problem showcasing the issues that these men faced while keeping us grounded within the moment. I felt gripped throughout most of the movie and could not wait to see how certain sequences ended even though you can research the outcome yourself without seeing the movie. Finally, the lunar landing scene is far and away one of the most impressive scenes I have seen in a very long time. I saw this film on an IMAX screen and since that scene was filmed using an IMAX camera, I was blown away with just how detailed the landscape was. While other scenes were borderline unwatchable due to how shaky the camera was, the lunar landing far exceeds any shot in 2018 and is a true reflection of what happens when you have elite talent both on and off-screen.
Overall, First Man is compelling, well-acted, and tense, and what more can you ask for from a film like this. I did end up feeling a little disappointed that this film was not as good as Whiplash, but the stories and styles are so different from one another that I can appreciate this movie for what it is. If A Star Is Born was our first major awards contender of the season, you better believe that the cast and crew of First Man will be competing with them every step of the way.
Overall Score: 8.5/10