First Man

First Man
First Man
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Starring Ryan Gosling, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Pablo Schreiber and Ciarán Hinds
In UK Cinemas October 12th, 2018

by Joanna Orland

Finally – a film about the 1969 moon landing. You may wonder why it’s taken nearly fifty years to tell the story of Neil Armstrong and his famed mission. Well, it’s because there is no story to tell – they landed safely, mission accomplished.

First Man tries to demystify Neil Armstrong, the man most famed for the mission. Giving backstory to his success story, the film attempts to humanize the astronaut by delving into his family life, including the tragic death of his young daughter. It also expands the narrative by showing failed attempts at the mission, and loss of life of fellow astronauts and friends that resulted. But this does less to humanize Armstrong and more to pad out the story where there is none.

Director Damien Chazelle has always been a master at the technical craft of filmmaking, from his debut Whiplash to his Oscar winning turn with La La Land. First Man takes this precision further, using visuals and audio to immerse the audience in flight simulations. Chazelle brings such an authenticity to the simulations, that to achieve this realism, he not only built the sets and props to scale rather than camera friendly size, but he also created a ‘ride’ for the actors. He used LED screens of space and light, along with motion of the spacecraft, to create the in-camera effects of space travel. The flight simulations feel so immersive, that this is not a film for the faint of heart or those who suffer from motion sickness! During one extended segment, I actually had to close my eyes and breathe deeply as the strobe effects and camera movements gave me such a headache and dizzy feeling, I truly struggled to cope.

Outside of the technical accomplishments First Man achieves, the film lacks soul and story. Coming in at two hours and twenty one minutes, you do get an impression of how long it took America to prepare for the journey to the moon; the film drags so much, it almost feels like it’s unfolding in real time. There are so many plot points that don’t have purpose, and so many superfluous characters, it’s impossible to feel any empathy for the struggle. Especially as we know how it ends.

A masterclass in the technical side of filmmaking, First Man may land on the moon, but struggles to travel further to satisfyingly explore the first man himself.


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