First Man follows up the years of Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling) from the time he joined NASA as an astronaut in 1961 to his historic landing on the moon in 1969 while also dealing with personal and professional losses.
Positive Points: –
- Damien Chazelle’s direction, hands down, is almost everything that makes the movie as stunning as it is.
- Technical excellence in all departments, be it visuals, sound, editing, you name it; everything’s fantastic!
- Performances of all actors (with some reservations which I’ll cover later).
- 141 minutes is a fairly long runtime, but don’t worry you won’t feel time passing by while you’re watching this flick.
Negative Points: –
- Though both the first and second half is highly impressive, the latter came around a bit less enthusiastic as the former one.
- I’m literally tired of Ryan Gosling’s stoic expressions which he maintains in almost every sequence (bare a few) no matter the sentiments.
The General Aspects: –
Given Damien Chazelle’s reputation with musicals, I was sort of sceptical yet excited to witness his work in a non-musical film. First Man wasn’t the movie I expected him to work upon as a deviation from his forte and I wasn’t hyped much by its trailer either. But the film is something else! First Man is not just visually breathtaking but also cinematically stimulating to the viewer’s state of mind. There are rarely any moments where you’d wish to divert your attention to something else other than the screen, such is the strength of its narrative. It’s great to see how the sound and music go hand in hand with the visuals and carry the story and its emotions onto the audience. I won’t be surprised if this film sweeps away the technical awards at the Oscars next year and Chazelle gets another award for the Best Director because no other flick released this year comes remotely close to the grandiloquence of First Man. I liked how characters other than Neil get a chance to develop especially his wife Jane. In most similar films, characters like Jane are sidelined in favour of the lead characters but here she is as important as Neil and that confers a better perspective into our protagonist’s personal life.
The only thing about the film, apart from Gosling’s act, that nettled me (albeit slightly) was its imbalance of thrill. Surely, both the halves are intriguing and take hold of your attention, the thrill imparted by the second half was much weaker than its former half. The first half focused on NASA’s innumerable failures in its moon mission which included many stimulating sequences where our characters were in some trouble or the other which was vivified by terrific cinematography and direction. The second half did have everything in place as per the technical requirements but the thrill was gone as our characters (or let’s call them astronauts) were hardly in any danger. Also, the focus was less on NASA’s toiling efforts in making the Apollo 11 landing successful and more about Neil’s personal tribulations. It doesn’t mean that any of these were bad, they were indeed great but rather less compulsive in comparison to what we had seen before them.
First Man has a terrifically talented ensemble, of which most actors are well known and well-established in some industry or the other. So, it’s kinda impossible for me to go through everyone’s work not just because of the humongous nature of the task but also because most actors technically had cameos, which were obviously fantastic in their own spaces. Starting with the man in the centre, Ryan Gosling is pretty good as Neil Armstrong and he has his share of silent emotional outbursts which he renders with great finesse. But if you ask me whether Gosling was irreplaceable in his character’s shoes here, I would give you a straight and confident NO! Unlike his performances in the previous decade, he has been highly stoic with his performances in the present decennium no matter how great the films were or how effective his overall act was. One can argue that Gosling’s lack of expression in this particular flick can be weighed upon his character’s reserved nature and that’s right, but partially. A person may be sceptical or less appreciative of sharing his emotions but that doesn’t make his face go bland every time. People feel emotions both on physical and psychological terms and they react to it without any hindrance. The degree of this reaction can be a matter of discussion but it can’t be zero in all cases unless and until the person doesn’t respond to stimulus.. Nonetheless, I would still reiterate that Gosling is pretty good and my views on his act are highly positive. But I strongly believe that he shouldn’t get an Oscar for this, though a nomination might just do fine. He can do a lot better than this and he needs to! Trust me!
Claire Foy is absolutely brilliant as Janet Shearon. She showcases her character’s strengths and vulnerabilities with great power and walks hand in hand with the male lead instead of remaining only as a supporting character. Jason Clarke shines as Ed White in a fairly comparable screentime and effortlessly marks his character’s importance in presence of the film’s leads. Interestingly, Clarke has previously done roles where he has played characters who are less expressive of their emotions and has completely nailed them without being stoic. I wished Gosling could do the same here, but anyways..!
Final Words: –
Damien Chazelle’s first giant leap out of his forte is his best as of now. First Man is beautiful, powerful and evocative both in terms of its visual and acoustic execution. It’s 2018’s most technically stellar flick and is highly likely to become an Oscar favourite in many categories in the following year including the Best Director. But what’s important is that years down the line, it’s filmmaking style might become a good case study for budding filmmakers and I see no good reason as to why it shouldn’t inspire people to become filmmakers.