La La Land collaborators, director Damien Chazelle and actor Ryan Gosling, reteam for First Man, the riveting story of NASA’s mission to land a man on the moon and the challenges faced by Neil Armstrong to get there.
Damien Chazelle has no comfort zone. He seems capable of switching between genres without missing a beat, breaking stride or floundering on any cinematic level. First Man is so far removed from La La Land and Whiplash that the initial impact should not be overstated. His exploration, documentation and visceral interpretation of the space race might use Philip Kaufman’s The Right Stuff as a touchstone, but this no mere homage on screen.
Having Ryan Gosling’s stoically determined Neil Armstrong front and centre ably supported by Claire Foy, Corey Stoll and Jason Clarke amongst others, Chazelle’s measured approach is riveting. In-flight footage is breathtaking and Gosling provides an intensity throughout which proves pivotal to making First Man successful. Family drama, professional arguments and genuine fatalities provide more than an occasional sucker punch, while a late 1970s aesthetic permeates every frame.
Sound design and music convey both the majesty of their achievements whilst simultaneously adding a claustrophobic edge which broadens narrative. Pacing for such a vast topic remains surprisingly on point meaning at no time do events drag. In the opening minutes a combination of personal risk and adrenaline-fuelled euphoria dominate and define Neil Armstrong. There is a sense that technologies were being pushed, solutions being pulled from thin air and life threatening situations an unspoken sacrifice. Combining a documentary feel with economical storytelling and stripped back intimacy familiar to non-fiction, only adds to our emotional engagement here. In many ways First Man harks back to a simpler time when America pushed boundaries, solved problems and looked to celebrate human achievements.
Space exploration in the age of Cuban missile threats, Cold War espionage and burgeoning social change proved that America at that time could overcome anything. Through a measured ensemble performance from the entire cast, that sense of curiosity, human risk and immeasurable celebration in the face of human accomplishment is brought home. Chazelle has proven himself a masterful director of visionary potential here and lovers of film should consider ownership of First Man mandatory.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Written by: Josh Singer
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll
First Man was released on Digital, 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD in February 2019.