Most biopics about US ventures into space provoke feelings of pride and triumph; however, director Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong biopic, “First Man,” does something a little different. While the film does have moments of excitement, suspense and success, the film’s overall tone is somber, unsettling and wistful. This is what makes it such an invigorating watch.
The film does an excellent job of personalizing the story of an American icon, which allows us to get a better look at Armstrong’s life rather than the things Armstrong accomplished. This is a testament to Chazelle as a storyteller and filmmaker.
Because Chazelle is able to accomplish such a personal story in the midst of creating such a technically-sound film, “First Man” is the most mature and focused film in the young director’s career.
While “First Man” may not seem anything like “La La Land” – the last film that brought Ryan Gosling and Chazelle together – the two films share common themes of sacrifice.
In this way, Chazelle proves that this is a familiar theme to him as he crafts both a visually and a narratively compelling movie with “First Man.”
As one might expect of a biopic about Neil Armstrong, “First Man” tells the story of how Armstrong (Gosling) became the first man to step foot on the moon. The story covers the various trials that Armstrong had to overcome throughout his career. The film is heavily concerned with the way Armstrong’s dangerous career affects his family.
Some of the best scenes in the film occur when Armstrong is at home with his family. These scenes stick out because of the noteworthy acting between Gosling and Claire Foy, who plays Janet Armstrong.
Gosling is able to subtly express himself while remaining relatively stoic throughout the film, and Foy artfully steers each scene she’s in with her commanding presence. Both actors really help carry the film as much of the movie is without dialogue. That means the film relies on their performances to help move the story forward.
Besides the commendable performances, “First Man” features some of the most stunning lighting of all the films from 2018 so far. There is so much that works about the cinematography in “First Man.” All throughout the film, there are countless breathtaking shots – the best of which are the shots in space.
The filmmakers use quite a bit of shaky cam during the launch sequences, which really helps simulate the experience of being in a tight space with little visibility. In this way, the film can feel claustrophobic at times. This decision to make the viewer feel somewhat uneasy is bold, but I think it works with the tone that is established throughout the film.
As I said before, “First Man” is not about triumphant accomplishments—it’s about a person struggling to come to terms with their circumstance. Because of this troubling tone, Chazelle pulls off a story that feels authentic and true.