Director: Damien Chazelle
Talent: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy
Released: 12 October
In less than five years, Damien Chazelle has ascended to the crème de la crème of Hollywood directors following the one-two punch of Whiplash and La La Land. With First Man, Chazelle is no longer content with resurrecting the Hollywood musical or bagging J.K. Simmons his much deserved Oscar. Instead he’s crafted nothing short of an epic, a gorgeously rendered quest to get Neil Armstrong’s size 9 and a half’s on the moon.
Everything, from Nathan Crowley’s maddeningly claustrophobic sets to Ai-Ling Lee’s monstrous sound design, captures the violent, terrifying insanity of shooting men into space in a tin can. It’s a film that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible.
Or rather, it should be. Chazelle’s previous films have always had shaky narrative cores. Strip away the show-stopping set pieces and deft characterization, and you’re left scratching your head at the character arcs and motivations. First Man seems like an over-correction on that part. Armstrong’s arc is rock solid, and in theory, moving, but both he and the rest of the cast are dull ciphers. Dialogue is strictly functional, and we barely get a glimpse into the interior lives of this huge, unwieldy group of people. What does it say about a Neil Armstrong film when Buzz Aldrin is the most engaging character?
Ryan Gosling has made a career out of playing quiet, obsessive professionals, and this role offers little challenge. Only Claire Foy, as Armstrong’s wife Janet, finds layers in the anemic script, conveying oceans of love and resentment with a mere glance.
Top things off with lumpy pacing that regularly kills any momentum and you’re left with a movie not unlike the moon itself; staggeringly beautiful for sure, but ultimately lifeless.
Words: Jack O’Higgins