First Man (2018)

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FIRST MAN (2018)

A review by Adam Lovett

Director: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Shea Wigham, Patrick Fuggit, Jason Clarke, Corey Stoll, Lukas Haas

 

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

This is what the cinematic sensory experience is all about. I’ve studied the moon landing all my life. I’ve read biographies on Neil Armstrong. ’I’ve watched hours of archival footage through documentaries. My imagination has been fueled by it since I was a child but I never ever expected to actually LIVE it!

In FIRST MAN I feel like I was thrust as close to the white knuckle reality of what it felt like to be in a Gemini or Apollo capsule. To feel the terror of being in a tin can strapped to rockets that explode multiple times with earth shattering force.  This footage is an intense and chaotic audio visual assault more potent than any action film has achieved this year. It had me gasping for air more than once.

The dedication to Armstrong’s subjective POV in this film is astonishing.  The camera devotedly almost always visualizes through his eyes remaining inside the capsules until the final Apollo launch nearly 2 hours into the movie. This makes the exterior shots of blast off and  space flight even more awe inspiring with astronomical perspective when they are finally revealed and we glimpse a larger scope through the vast IMAX lens.

This is not a traditional bio-pic by any stretch. The organic narrative remains intimate and unwavering in making an interstellar event all about this singular individual. The entire film is a very personal journey that totally demystifies this now iconic event. Showing the motivations, the sacrifices, the human cost of this interstellar endeavor. This isn’t the story of what type of man gets to walk on the moon, it’s the exploration of how this one exceptional homosapien achieved his destiny.

The screenplay would make Hemingway proud. Not a single word is wasted. Short, concise sentences can sometimes fill in exposition that in lesser films would take entire scenes or demand a flashback. Nothing feels forced. The plot and pacing of the story allows for the artistry of the filmmaking, the marvel of the technology to move us forward rather than exposition. The NASA lingo is never anything but wholly convincing.

The score is dictated by the emotions of Armstrong, not telling the audience how to feel but communicating how this sometimes alienating man truly may have felt himself in these moments.

Gosling is the ideal choice for playing the taciturn and private Armstrong. A pragmatic man of few words who keeps his emotions in check even under the most extreme circumstances. The performance is precise, refined to the point that a single door slam screams, a subtle finger fidget communicates volumes.

As Janet Armstrong Claire Foy perfectly counter balances the energy of Gosling. Her emotions are often laid bare, not extroverted but expressive. She is the cypher for the audience. The wife who understands her withdrawn husband better than anyone. Her responses to him often help us understand what’s going on inside his mind.

The supporting cast all shade these now historic figures with equal economy.  Infusing character dimension by their interactions with Armstrong. By action or inaction, not through dialogue but the context of their behavior in situations and how Armstrong responds to them.

Contemplative, introspective and at times poetic. There is ethereal beauty, heart wrenching sorrow and triumph of spirit all woven with a grounded sense of real world wonder. Echoing its central character, this is a film that doesn’t overstate or punctuate. It demands participation not just observation.

This was an overwhelmingly emotional experience that left me in awe multiple times. I was riveted to every frame right from the solo ballistic opening through to the final shot of unity. The steadfast authenticity, the understated realism made everything, even the more speculative moments feel like truth. I can’t imagine another film this year will have such a powerful effect on my soul, imagination and psychology. Appropriate considering this tells the journey towards what is arguably the pinnacle of global human achievement. A triumph for all mankind that changed the very way we observe our universe and potentially interact with it.

Make sure you see this film on the IMAX screen. The sheer magnitude of the technical achievement, the visuals, the sound, the galactic scope will never be the same at home.

 

Watch the trailer

Listen to the atmospheric and ethereal soundtrack

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