DIRECTOR: damien chazelle (la la land, whiplash)
STARRING: ryan gosling, claire foy, kyle chandler, and corey stoll
REVIEWER: lyall carter
A look at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
Coming off the high of the critical acclaim of La La Land and becoming the youngest person to win Best Director at the Oscars there was always going to be high expectations around Damien Chazelle's next project. First Man does not at all disappoint. Is there any genre that Chazelle can't do?
Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. Its not only one of the most iconic feats of exploration of the 20th century but also one of the most famous historical moments. Nearly everyone knows the image of Armstrong on the moon and of the words he uttered, but First Man explores the whole story from Armstrong joining the NASA programme until he sets his feet on the surface of the moon.
Its not an easy task creating a film with so much historical and cultural significance as Neil Armstrong and the moon landing. Especially in America where because of the political climate there was an uproar because you don't actually see the flag planted on the moon. Trust me; you don't miss it. But in First Man Chazelle creates a generally thrilling, edge of your seat ride that gives wonderful insight into the life of Neil Armstrong and the birth of the NASA space programme.
We feel the stark contrast between the immensity of the task of landing on the moon and the intimacy of the lives of Neil, his wife June, and his children. We get to see it even more clearly by the way in which Chazelle frames his scenes with the sprawling vastness of the NASA rockets and facilities which dwarf Neil and his colleagues at every turn in contrast to the tightness of the shots Chazelle uses for the scenes between Neil and June.
Which is one of the reasons why Chazelle is one of the foremost directors of his generation. He crafts his films with everything being carefully placed in the overall jigsaw puzzle of the story. He uses everything at his disposal: the absence of sound, the score, flashbacks, darkness, and spotlight to ratchet up the tension or to wring the emotion out of a scene. Its truly a beautiful thing to behold. My only slight gripe (which is why its fours stars instead of five) is that at the end of the second act it feels a wee bit too long.
Ryan Gosling gives one of his best performances to date giving us a completely introverted Armstrong but one that we can connect with on all levels. Claire Foy does wonders with what is essentially the wife waiting at home part and really crafts for herself a role that is at times thunderous in its power.
A beautifully crafted edge of your seat thrill ride into outer space.
First Man is available on DVD, Blu-ray, 4KUHD, and digital from all good disc and digital retailers.
Lots of in depth extra features here documenting the whole film process except for the score creation which is slightly disappointing. However there is more than plenty of intriguing stuff here in the Blu-ray extras, but by far the most interesting is the doco on how they built a gimbal system that synchronised with a massive LED screen.
Every time the gimbal, which had a space craft on it, moved the projected picture on the LED screen moved with it. This managed to give the film makers accurate lighting for the shots and allowed the actors something to interact with instead of just a green screen.
Overall an in depth set of extra features including deleted scenes that will more than satisfy both fans of Armstrong and those interested in the art of film making.