Damien Chazelle’s First Man is an exceptionally well crafted bit of cinema. The Whiplash and La La Land director has delivered a rich and textured Neil Armstrong film, which looks and feels like it was ripped out the the 1960s.
First Man charts Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) in the years leading-up to his historical walk on the moon. The film shows the dangers of stepping out into the unknown and the toll that it took on his wife (Claire Foy) and his friends and colleagues.
At its core, First Man is about personal loss, drive and forward momentum. Chazelle’s film opens with he death of Armstrong’s young daughter from cancer and we see how his own forward propulsion drove him to make his historical moon-landing. It was a way of release, an escape from the harsh reality into the unknown. Chazelle captures this – even if the film is a little clinical, feeling like an abridged version of a longer film, one with the main beats kept in, but missing the heart and soul.
The technical mastery on display here is exceptional. Justin Hurwitz’s score is one of the best that I’ve heard in a long, long time while Linus Sandgren’s cinematography captures some beautiful textures and colours. Sandgren used 16mm, 35mm and 70mm IMAX to create some wonderful visuals, which work brilliantly with the seamless special effects.
As good as the film is, the character beats never really hit home and the film lacks true human moments. It works because of the top tier cast: Gosling, Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Ciarán Hinds, Patrick Fugit and Lukas Haas are all very good. It’s likely this emotional coolness is why the film failed to connect with the masses and why it never truly broke-out if its arthouse core audience.
First Man is a fine slice of cinema. It lacks a little humanity, but it’s an impressive feat nonetheless and one worth watching on the biggest screen possible.