First Man: Review

First Man
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Damien Chazelle, with two films that have collectively received 19 Oscar nominations—nine of which were wins—has made a reputation for himself in the industry. Despite facing financial difficulties during the production of La La Land, Chazelle seems poised for yet another Oscar battle with his third film, First Man. Surprisingly, this venture into the realm of space exploration isn’t a repetition of his acclaimed musical, La La Land, or the intense drama, Whiplash.

First Man proves that Chazelle can effortlessly transition between genres. While his first two films were infused with rhythmic spontaneity, this biopic of Neil Armstrong is a stark contrast. The film’s most captivating scenes unfold in a silent, icy universe where the audience’s sense of “enjoyment” comes from visceral claustrophobia and the imminent threat of catastrophe.

Unlike the grand visuals of sci-fi classics like Interstellar, Chazelle opts for a different cinematic approach, focusing on the claustrophobic cockpit views and oppressive musical scores. First Man is far from the traditional space spectacle designed for mass entertainment; it leaves you pondering why anyone would voluntarily undertake such perilous missions.

The space scenes in First Man are undeniably exhilarating, but the film’s flaw lies in its earthbound drama. With a runtime of 141 minutes, the film dedicates significant time to the dynamics between Neil Armstrong and his wife, Janet. Although Chazelle aims to provide ample “character space” for both, Janet’s storyline feels somewhat underdeveloped.

This is where Chazelle becomes ensnared in his own artistic ambition: his knack for efficient storytelling occasionally works against him. He introduces a plethora of side characters, yet fails to give any of them meaningful development. This inconsistency reflects a certain indecisiveness about how deeply he wants to delve into the broader context of the space program.

First Man is not an overarching drama that delves into the technological and political intricacies of the moon landing. For such stories, we have other films like The Right Stuff or series like From the Earth to the Moon. Chazelle’s focus is squarely on the metal coffins that serve as spacecraft and the Armstrong family’s psychology, particularly their pre-mission contemplations about the potential impact on their children.

Despite these limitations, First Man excels in many areas. Its visually stunning scenes are especially enhanced when viewed in IMAX. However, considering Chazelle’s high standards, it’s unfortunate that he didn’t fully capitalize on the talents of Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy to make the film a more punchy, fast-paced adventure. Although the acting is superb, First Man will be remembered more for its depiction of space missions than for its emotional drama—a somewhat regrettable outcome given the high expectations.

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