Friday, October 12, 2018

First Man - Review

Space. The final frontier. At one point only a science fiction dream, traveling among the stars became a reality due to sheer force of will of a nation and a space program. Around the center of the crowning achievement of landing on the moon is Neil Armstrong, an enigmatic and determined man. First Man explores the journey to those first steps on the surface of the moon, steps that changed history.

Witness the riveting story of NASA’s mission to land a man on the moon, focusing on Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and the years 1961-1969. A visceral, first-person account of the sacrifices and the cost—on Armstrong and on the nation—of one of the most dangerous missions in history.

As if director Damien Chazelle needed any more proof of his exceptional skill in the director’s chair, First Man proves unequivocally that the young director is one of the best working today. His technical merits have been on display in the past, but with this remarkable piece of cinema, Chazelle takes it to another level. The gentle touch of realism and impeccable detail elevate this mission movie beyond the fairly straightforward screenplay. 

The technical wizardry behind this marvel of a movie are second to none in 2018, and it’s likely to be reflected once the award nominations start to trickle out. The use of practical effects to capture space travel is inventive and adds another layer of intensity to the film and performances, the musical score from Justin Hurwitz is mesmerizing and harrowing from top to bottom (see “The Landing” from the soundtrack as evidence), and the sound design is perfect. First Man is a film that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible, with the best sound possible, to fully appreciate the beauty of it all.

Lost in the dizzying fray of the intense journey will inevitably be the performances from both Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy. Both deliver emotionally deep performances that somehow still keep the audience at arm’s length. Foy, as Armstrong’s wife Janet, executes the worrisome and anxiety riddled life of an astronaut’s wife well, with all the subtlety required of the suffering but supportive spouse. 

On the other side, Gosling is far more cold and tough on the exterior, shielding a love for discovery and space under the surface. It’s a brooding performance, similar to some of Gosling’s work in both Drive and Blade Runner 2049, but it’s what Gosling does with his eyes that is truly astonishing. Most of the camerawork is limited to close-ups due to the claustrophobic nature of space helmets and crafts, and that’s where Gosling’s talent shines, portraying varying emotions from one frame to the next.

First Man utilizes some true technical feats and subtle emotional moments to bring this dramatic and important human event to life. Chazelle firmly plants himself as one of the most talented people in Hollywood while simultaneously placing himself at the forefront of the Best Director conversation. The moving performances from Gosling and Foy are likely to still be recognized, though they may be buried under the sheer majesty of the magnificent film. First Man is a film unlike any other in 2018, and an absolute must see.

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