First Man is the film version of Neil Armstrong’s mission to the moon. A turbulent affair, Armstrong was determined, along with NASA, to reach the moon before the Russians did. His obsession with space led to fractures with his friends, his morality, and even his wife. An excellent biopic, First Man goes above and beyond Oscar conventional standards to deliver an amazing dramatic space story. It is also a stark reminder of the dangers of space. In some ways, this movie is both illuminating and terrifying, and all the better for it. Props to Damien Chazelle for crafting and directing such an engrossing film.
Much of First Man’s success is due to the characterization of Neil Armstrong. We see Armstrong during his most vulnerable times, and learn of his ambitions that go beyond just being a professor. Armstrong is really brought to life by Ryan Gosling, who’s as terrific here as usual. Gosling’s eccentric choice of roles show his diverse range of modes and emotions. Even though we know what happens, we can’t help but want to see Armstrong succeed throughout the film, because Gosling’s performance is that engaging.
Gosling is accompanied by Claire Foy, who is excellent as Armstrong’s supportive and struggling wife, Janet. She gets several moments to shine, as the film heavily focuses on how the space mission caused him and his wife to drift apart. I particularly loved the scene where she confronts the space crew and tells them that they don’t know what their doing. The energy and anger she displays is nothing short of incredible. Speaking of the space crew, they’re the other major characters featured prominently in the film,, Kyle Chandler is Deke Slayton, Corey Stoll (always good to see him in anything) is a balder Buzz Aldrin, Jason Clarke is Edward Higgins White, Christopher Abbott is Dave Scott, and Ciaran Hinds is Robert Gilruth. What I liked most about the cast is that it’s a who’s who of familiar names, and they all add to the film’s strength.
The editing is excellent, and some of the best from any film I’ve seen all year. This film is over two hours long, and not once during its run time did I feel bored. The movie is brilliant in how it structures its plot, going from point A to point B, and always keeping the audience moving along for the ride. The film conveys the dangers of space in a rather scary fashion right off the bat in the opening scene when the ship fails to take off properly. This film and Gravity (2013) prove that you don’t need space aliens to convey just how scary space really is. I certainly wouldn’t want to be in that spaceship when it took off. I would have loved to have seen this film in IMAX for that scene alone. If anything, I predict this film will win best sound design, as it definitely deserves it.
The film boasts a musical score by Damien Chazelle regular, Justin Hurtwitz. This time, Hurtwitz does his first real dramatic score. The music in First Man is fairly subtle. Unlike La La Land, there are no hummable themes to speak of, as the music is meant to effectively enhance the picture. The most memorable part for me was during The Landing sequence in which the music almost sounded transcendent and classical as it guided the audience along a historical journey.
First Man is a fantastic story of human determination and sacrifice. It is one of the best films I’ve seen all year. If I liked doing ratings, I would give this film my best rating possible. I can’t recommend it enough, and I want to see it again.
Now playing in Hanover at The Nugget Theater, Monday through Thursday at 3:45 and 6:40 PM, Friday at 3:45, 6:40 and 9:20 PM, Saturday at 1:00, 3:45, 6:40 and 9:20 PM, and Sunday at 1:00, 3:45, and 6:40 PM.