Wednesday, 10 October 2018

First Man: Film Review

First Man: Film Review

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Ciaran Hinds, Kyle Chandler
Director: Damien Chazelle

The story of the first Man on the Moon is not one that needs to be told.
First Man: Film Review

Everyone knows how it happened and that it happened (unless you subscribe to the conspiracy theories), so Whiplash and La La Land director Damien Chazelle didn't really have his work cut out convincing us of what happened.

However, once again, as he explores the nature of obsession (as with previous films), Chazelle's occasionally slow but neverless than thrilling First Man is the Neil Armstrong film you didn't know you needed.

Gosling's almost automaton-like turn as the pilot turned astronaut anchors the film - though in truth, the connection with family is actually at the core of this space flick. Taking in the years 1961 to 1969 and threading in the death of Armstrong's daughter, First Man looks at the human cost of the space race, the desperation of defeat from the Soviets in parts and those left behind.

It's an interesting concoction, a mix that's slow to brew at times, and that never jettisons pace for necessity of narrative.

But in its space capsule sequences, and its adaption of practical FX (where possible - you'll be hard pressed to find any line), Chazelle, along with sound effects editor Phil Barrie, creates something utterly nerve-shredding.
First Man: Film Review

Clever use of silence (aside from the actual launch for the Moon mission, the one aural misstep where a bombastic OST ruins the atmosphere) and a concentration on the rivets and creaks of the rocket's capsule make the pilot sequences both claustrophobic and thrilling.

Everything rattles - including your teeth - giving you a psychological insight into what the pilots must have felt inside, not knowing what's coming or if this is the end. It's further exacerbated in one sequence where a thump and puff of smoke viewed from outside is utterly devastating.

Simply put, if the use of sound in First Man doesn't secure some kind of award, the system is broken.

Elsewhere, Gosling's touches give Armstong an aloof icy detachedness - you're never quite 100% sure you get to his core, and there are questions about one final sequence on the moon. However, small subtle moments add to the unfolding tension. And Foy's support swerves unnervingly from solid to faltering under the pressure; again, both Foy and Gosling make the best of their slightly under-served arcs. It's not 100% convincing that you leave First Man knowing massively more about the man himself, though it's not entirely clear whether that's the film's MO - and certainly, those who knew Armstrong say they never really knew him.
First Man: Film Review

Equally the politics of space-race are sidelined in favour of the simplicity of the drama; this is not a film where great speeches are dispatched extolling the virtues of why it's important, how small man is etc.

But it's in the thrill and terror of this technically adept biopic that proves to be enthralling; you can understand the joy of what NASA achieved and how they felt, even if the script fails to fully place it into words for you.

And that's perhaps Chazelle's greatest achievement here - a clinical commitment to the nuts and bolts (literally) of NASA and the rush to space that proves First Man is gripping from beginning to rather abrupt end.

First Man is one giant leap for space cinema in many ways.

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