First Man (2018)
Director: Damien Chazelle | Runtime: 2h 21mins | Biography, Drama
In the early 1960’s, Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and his wife Janet (Claire Foy) must deal with a great loss and instead of staying on a failing rocket plane programme, decide to apply for Project Gemini, and chronicles the journey Neil takes till he takes his first steps on the moon.
Towards the start of the award season, we always get a flurry of biographical films. They act as a platform to show off an actors talent, being the central focus of the film. Bohemian Rhapsody, Vice and Green Book are some of the recent biopics flaunting the talents of some of the most talented actors today. First Man follows arguably one of the most famous names in history, and the story it takes for him to reach his peak.
The difference between this, however, and many biopics before is the depth it’s taken by director Damien Chazelle. Hot off Oscar wins from his 2016 musical La La Land, he makes sure to not lose any steam. It would be no secret to say that he successfully landed on the Moon (yes – they did land on the Moon) but despite this Chazelle creates tension throughout, and brings to light some of the sacrifices that the pilots and their families had to make.
He takes careful consideration with cinematographer Linus Sandgren to keep the framing tight, making the film feel close and personal because really, this isn’t a film about the Apollo missions. It acts as a backdrop to the story of a man dealing with a great trauma and working through his grief. Neil fully dives into the mission, and instead of working through it, he hides it away until he’s ready to let go. Because of this, his wife Janet has to bare the brunt of the emotional strain for the both of them, and through this Claire Foy really shines, attempting to have a normal life for her and Neil’s two boys. It really falls on her to shown the stress and emotion of the situation.
Chazelle takes a strong descent into the era of the 60’s as well, trying to really immerse us into the film by actually filming most of it in 16mm. The imperfect grains and almost awkwardly placed cameras don’t make this feel like a high budget Hollywood production, instead it involves you deeper into the setting. He has set in a number of interviews as well that they modelled many of lift-off shots from footage actually captured of the Apollo missions.
The landing sequence itself is certainly a cinematic spectacle, as you might expect from a film including spaceflight. It’s a lengthy sequence, and some might not find the tension pays off due to knowing the outcome, but from a technical stand point Chazelle and his team captured something really special.