Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Written by: Josh Singer
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Patrick Fugit, Ciarán Hinds, Pablo Schreiber
Runtime: 138 min
Damien Chazelle and star Ryan Gosling reteam for 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.
I always struggle to analyze films based on real-life events, especially in this case. Man landing on the Moon is not just a story that most people know, it's something that EVERYONE knows, which can be an instant flaw to a movie. If everyone knows the story, then predictability is a guaranteed factor, and any scene involving tension or suspense loses its impact since everyone knows how it ends. I mean, this is still a spoiler-free review, but ... Is it really?!
So, Damien Chazelle didn't have an easy job. How can you convey that feeling of concern for the character if the audience already knows that he/she is going to be okay? How can you make your viewers stay captivated for more than two hours when the story has its beginning, middle and ending pretty well-defined in their minds? How can you make a film about one of the most important and meaningful moments in humankind's history without it being a total letdown?
Well, thanks to the incredible dedication of Chazelle and the thoughtful screenplay by Josh Singer, First Man is a success and most likely the best movie in history to depict the Moon landing and everything that it required to achieve it. The biggest surprise of this experience (because it is, indeed, a cinematic experience) is that I didn't feel bored, even though I do think the film is too long. Singer's character scripts are extremely well-written, giving each and everyone one of them a defining personality.
Every secondary character is important, and that is one of the reasons I truly enjoyed First Man. It offered me a new perspective on how the Moon landing was planned and what did it need to go through. A lot of people only associate the Moon landing to Neil Armstrong, and that's it. This movie goes through Gemini, the project that allowed Apollo to start, every astronaut involved that unfortunately died just trying to perform some tests ... It is an in-depth look at not only Armstrong's life but everyone around him.
However, he is, in fact, the star of the show. Being able to learn more about his tragic past (which I didn't know before the film), how he had to deal with so many deaths, how he had to tell his kids that he might not ever return, his marriage, his bravery and calm under stressful situations... I know it's a movie, but knowing that Ryan Gosling and the crew talked with the real Neil about him and everything else, it really feels like First Man depicts what truly happened, even if it overdramatizes here and there.
The cast is unbelievably amazing. Jason Clarke is great as Ed White, one of Neil's closest friends. Claire Foy is absolutely astonishing as Neil's wife, Janet, and she might be looking at an Oscar nomination. However, the one that carries this entire thing and who is undoubtedly getting a nomination is Ryan Gosling. Gosh, this guy really knows how to pick his films. Wonderful performance, filled with emotional moments and remarkably tense dialogues which he perfectly nailed. It's not exactly his career-best performance but, so far, it's one of the year's best.
Technically, it couldn't reach my expectations better. Naturally, I expected a gorgeous-looking movie with Damien Chazelle proving that he knows his craft and that's what I got. The filmmaking in display is indisputably spectacular. From the brilliant decision to film the claustrophobic interior of the rockets to the small detail in the camera movement resembling the difficulty in focusing the lenses back in the day (that grainy resolution), almost everything is seamless. An excellent editing, an artistic cinematography by the well-known Linus Sandgren and an epic score by Justin Hurwitz, elevate the film in a significant way.
It isn't a flawless one, and it's majorly due to its runtime. Almost every issue that I have is partially related to the movie's length because if it was a bit shorter, then these issues would feel like nitpicks. The shaky-cam used to provide a realistic feeling inside the spaceflight's modules gets excessive and exhausting. The story lacks a quicker pace in the second act since there are gaps where nothing happens. Finally, even though everyone knows how things finish, the ending feels a bit abrupt. I think some scenes weren't that necessary and the time that they could have used in its conclusion, they didn't.
All in all, First Man is yet another Damien Chazelle's success. Technically astounding, this film offers a new perspective on how the Moon landing was performed and mainly what did it demand to get there. Lives were lost, and these tragic moments of his life shaped Neil Armstrong's personality. Ryan Gosling incorporates Neil in an emotionally brilliant way, saving him a likely Oscar nomination. Claire Foy also delivers an award-winning performance. It isn't a perfect movie primarily due to its excessive length which raises some of its other issues. Nevertheless, that epic Justin Hurwitz's score during the Apollo 11 launch and the astonishing Linus Sandgren's cinematography in the Moon are going to be kept in my memory forever.