Damien Chazelle, the man who directed the excellent Whiplash (2014) and La La Land (2016) returns to the cinemas with First Man.
In the 1960s, an astronaut named Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) lives at home with his wife and children and lives a peaceful live with them. He has done extremely braven and dangerous missions up in outer space in the past, however, he soon hopes to become the first man in history to walk on the moon.
This is the second collaboration between director Chazelle and Gosling, having worked together on the aforementioned musical smash hit La La Land. Gosling’s character in that film was an original character, so Gosling could play the character and not have to worry about it too much. This time, however, he is portraying Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. Naturally, any actor given the opportunity to play such an incredible role in a studio film such as First Man would be nervous as to whether or not they could truly bring justice to the person they are portraying. In the case of Gosling portraying Armstrong, he does a brilliant job. There was one scene in the first act of the picture where Gosling truly showcases his acting range, and was one of the most impressive scenes in First Man just on an acting standpoint alone.
Claire Foy portrays Armstrong’s wife Janet, and she additionally does a terrific job here. Every single actor in First Man does an amazing job at bringing these real people to the big screen and it was excellently done. They genuinely do not feel like actors in these roles.
The score was also euphoric, scored by Justin Hurwitz, who additionally composed Chazelle’s previously aforementioned films Whiplash and La La Land. Had this score not been used in a couple of the space sequences, it would have definitely weakened the film. But, gratefully, Hurwitz composed beautiful music and it is used effectively in the film. It is additionally a gorgeous film to look at with great cinematography by Linus Sandgren.
Something that is to be appreciated with this film, is the time it takes to actually develop Armstrong’s character, his relationship with his wife and children, and his big ambitions to go to the moon one day. Some people may just want a traditional space film with nothing more than gorgeous visuals. Viewers that want that kind of film will be disappointed with First Man. The more we get to see Armstrong’s home life and how hard he works as an astronaut to become the first man to step foot on the moon, it is so easy to get invested in him and his goals. That is why whenever we finally see some scenes in space, it is so rewarding.
Unfortunately, the film does feel sadly slow at times. Multiple sequences in First Man could have just been deleted from the overall film and would have drastically improved its pacing. Furthermore, it is an extraordinarily long film, clocking in at one hundred and thirty eight minutes. There were several sequences that were tiring at times due to the slow pacing and long running time.
Damien Chazelle proves yet again that he is an extremely talented filmmaker with First Man – a film with raw performances and a gripping story even if some of its pacing is too slow.
Overall Grade: B+
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some thematic content involving peril, and brief strong language
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Running Time: 138 minutes