Movie Review | First Man
First Whiplash, then La La Land and now with a magnificent study of space travel and inner explorations, director Damien Chazelle is rocketing into the Hollywood hall of fame.
The film follows the life of Armstrong from 1961 to the Apollo 11 Moon mission in 1969. Ryan Gosling steps into the astronaut’s spacesuit as Chazelle masterfully directs this visual and sonic drama.
The detailing here is not just in the props, but also in the quiet moments in which things go unsaid. Armstrong’s family life with wife and children gives the movie it’s grounding. Claire Foy is wonderful as the wife and mother suffering from the loss of a child, but also trying to keep it all together even as her husband gets increasingly distant while bearing his own burdens. Ryan Gosling, who is a bit stoic throughout, has his moments too—like when he breaks down after a funeral and when he lands on the moon.
The camera stays focused on faces and enclosed spaces—which solves some of the problems of period films. The attention to detail is incredible, whether it’s the evolution of the rockets, which shows the passage of time, or the equipment used. Chazelle shoots most of the space missions from within the confines of the capsule, taking the viewer right into the noisy epicentre of the machinery operated by switches, dials, tubes and voices in a faraway control centre. Then suddenly there’s complete silence—the kind you imagine in space or on an uninhabited landscape.
One knows the outcome, yet there is anticipation and tension, as Apollo 11 breaks free of its launch pad in Houston to speed towards the moon. Like in his previous two, music contributes to the film’s core. Justin Hurwitz produces a sterling soundtrack to give the film’s one of its main emotional pillars -- its tempo, pace and orchestration accelerating with our heartbeat. Sound design and editing are two other notable supports.
First Man doesn’t just dwell on its subject’s achievements. It takes a beat to glance into Armstrong’s personal motivations and vulnerabilities while using technical mastery to tell an engrossing true-life story. The film also joyously accentuates the probability that Chazelle, at 33 years of age, has so many promising years of filmmaking ahead of him. s