‘First Man’ review: A giant Oscar-worthy leap for Damien Chazelle

Moon shine: The film is sensorially capturing

Moon shine: The film is sensorially capturing  

The La La Land director’s ambitious vision holds First Man’s audiences willingly captive

Very early into First Man, astronaut Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is testing the boundaries of space travel with a rickety craft that touches the stratosphere. But back at home on earth, there’s an emotional upheaval of another kind. Armstrong sings his two-year-old daughter Karen to sleep, rubs her back as she vomits and comforts her cries of pain. The child is deteriorating from a brain tumour and eventually she passes away. A close-up of him turning a lock of her blonde hair through his fingers recurs throughout. Then on the eve of his space mission to the moon, Armstrong can only manage to shake his son’s hand fully knowing he might not return home alive.

There’s an evident inverse correlation with First Man’s progression and Armstrong’s familial disposition. As he’s getting closer to being the first man on the moon, the protagonist is clearly being swallowed whole by his mission. All the while, Armstrong’s peers are succumbing to the dangers of space exploration, NASA’s facing political resistance, but the show must go on and he’s still mourning the loss of an infant daughter. Damien Chazelle’s biographical drama chronicles the journey to put Armstrong on the moon. But the film is significantly a lot more about an unflinching and often uncomfortable look at who Armstrong really was. So immersive is Chazelle’s execution, that First Man unravels solely for individual audience members, very intimately.

First Man
  • Director: Damien Chazelle
  • Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Ciarán Hinds, Christopher Abbott, Patrick Fugit, Lukas Haas
  • Storyline: A chronicle of the many years it took to put Neil Armstrong on the moon

With sparse light-hearted moments, Gosling successfully pulls off his character’s intensity with grace, whether it’s trembling in bereavement, stony-faced with anger or steely concentration. As his wife, Claire Foy — though relegated to the drama’s back seat — is outstanding with mere expressions; of circumventing the detachment of her husband, worrying about his fate mid-mission and even furious at his cavalier disregard of their children. Through it all though, it’s Chazelle who shines in First Man. His fitful direction, zeroing in on ancillary background objects before cutting to long uncomfortable focused takes of his actors’ face often convey what dialogues do not. When it comes to the actual space travel, the director’s sleight of hand can be so overwhelming — from focusing on dented primitive equipment to an insect within the astronaut’s cockpit — it suffocates simply because you forget to breathe. Justin Hurwitz’s perfect application of soaring background scores and deafening silences in parts create a cinematic cocoon. Then when you add Linus Sandgren dated sepia-toned cinematography to the mix and First Man is sensorially capturing.

Watch First Man to forget 2018, travel back to the 1960s that Armstrong inhabited and revel in a profound portrait of the first man to walk on the moon.

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 2:12:05 AM |

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