Friday, October 19, 2018

Movie Review: "First Man" (2018)

Director: Damien Chazelle
Year: 2018
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hours, 21 minutes

A biography about the life of Neil Armstrong and how he became the first person to walk on the moon.

First Man 2018 movie still Neil Armstrong Apollo 11 launch
"If I had a choice, I'd take more fuel." (Image Source)
One thing is for certain about "First Man," there are a lot of American flags and American imagery in this movie. And just to be super shocking, there's even a flag on the moon! Don't believe the divisive rhetoric and angry social media outpouring you may have heard about it. We're of the mindset that you should actually see a movie before bitching about it on Twitter dot com. "First Man" is directed by Damien Chazelle, who directed the incredible films "Whiplash" and "La La Land." The screenplay is written by Josh Singer, who wrote other great movies like "Spotlight" and "The Post," and the film is based on the biographical book by James R. Hansen. It tells the story of Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), beginning from his time flying planes into the stratosphere through the death of his young daughter, through his employment at NASA, right up to his famous walk on the moon. That being said, it is less about America's achievement in landing on the moon and more about Armstrong's life and relationships, especially his marriage to his wife Janet (Claire Foy).
First Man 2018 movie still Ryan Gosling Claire Foy Neil Armstrong
"We're not sure we're going to make it to the moon. A lot of things have to go right for that to happen." (Image Source)
Damien Chazelle has specialized in Jazz-centric films for his last two projects, and now he ventures into the world of outer space exploration in "First Man." The film starts off with a (literal) bang as it depicts Neil Armstrong's flight into the stratosphere complete with a snafu that leads to a nail-bitingly intense situation. The first and last ten minutes of the film are the most exciting, and nothing that sits in between these two stretches of time ever lives up to those moments. BigJ thinks even the moon landing pails in comparison, but I disagree with that point because I enjoyed this part. We both agree that it's a huge problem when your movie peaks in the first ten minutes. The following 135 minutes mostly gives a comprehensive look at Armstrong's personal life. Intense factors like his daughter's illness and her eventual death, as well as Neil's relationship with his wife Janet, and his overall stoic attitude are also heavily explored.

"First Man" is an exceedingly beautiful film to look at when it comes to the shots of and in space. However, we felt the overall cinematography left a lot to be desired. We both agree that some of the choices in its camerawork are a bit baffling. In an attempt to personalize the story, Chazelle implements the use of handheld camera shots that look more like they were filmed for a new interplanetary episode of "The Office." It is so overloaded with tight shots that it starts to feel a bit claustrophobic. We also feel like Chazelle loses a sense of scale and scope about midway through its runtime and winds up downplaying the momentous achievement that the first moon walk was. Keep in mind, this has nothing to do with the lack of an American flag being physically planted on the moon. As for other complaints, it took us about two-thirds of the way through the film's runtime before we realized Corey Stoll was playing Buzz Aldrin. There is such a lack of characterization for any person that is not Neil or Janet or Ed White (Jason Clarke). Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, and several others give good performances, but they aren't all that remarkable. Trust us, we wish we could say differently.
First Man 2018 movie still Ryan Gosling Neil Armstrong
"It's time to go to work." (Image Source)
When it comes down to it, the biggest problem for "First Man" is that it is a bit dull with only fleeting moments of excitement and inspiration. We absolutely love movies about space and space exploration, but this was a massive disappointment for us. It is overlong and poorly paced. Every minute feels like three. What's sad is because of the talent involved here, this movie has almost been preordained to be nominated for an Academy Award, but we must say, it doesn't really deserve it in our minds. The stellar space visuals, sound mixing, and sound editing are extraordinary from a technical standpoint, and these aspects do justify awards appreciation. BigJ did not like the score, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. As huge fans of Chazelle's last two movies, we wanted nothing more than to love "First Man." It immensely pains us to say this wound up being hugely underwhelming.

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 5/10
IMDB's Rating: ~7.7/10
RT Rating: ~88%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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1 comment:

  1. Nice review! I'm a huge space nerd too, and felt the same way. I wish the script was richer and the direction had been tighter. The cast was good, but it was hard to identify with them because they lacked layered characterization - excluding Neil and Janet though.