First Man is ‘A Breath-taking Mixture of Adventure and Character Study’

Despite having only two feature length movies under his belt, Writer-Director Damien Chazelle has already become a serious household name in Hollywood. Both films were musically driven, yet leagues apart in tone as Whiplash is a tension-fuelled thriller about artistic ambition, whilst La La Land is one of the most crowd-pleasing and magical movies you’re ever likely to see. Both won multiple Oscars too, with Whiplash winning three awards and La La Land five (the latter winning Chazelle Best Director) and are widely regarded as two of the best movies of the 2010’s so far.

However with First Man, Chazelle is leaving the music scene behind and instead blasting off to outer space, tackling the true story of Astronaut Neil Armstrong. Portrayed by Ryan Gosling, we follow Armstrong on his journey from quiet engineer to his ultimate goal of becoming the first man to set foot on the moon.

I’m happy to announce that Chazelle is now three for three. Another classic in the making, First Man is a masterclass in storytelling, drama and tension, with Chazelle’s ambitious directing putting you right in the thick of the action from minute one.

Screenwriter Josh Singer (Spotlight, The Post) is in no rush to get us to the Apollo 11 launch, penning a sharp and engaging script which puts the story of the man ahead of the mission. It may be a little too long, as some may struggle with the 140 minute run time, but it’s a riveting drama, one which may surprise viewers with just how much happened in Armstrong’s life leading up to one of history’s most iconic moments.

Ryan Gosling is superb as Armstrong. He packs an emotional punch throughout but it’s a very subtle and minimalistic turn, the kind of performance that Gosling has now become accustomed to giving (see also Drive and The Place beyond the Pines). Claire Foy is also fantastic, an actress whose resume continues to grow stronger, and this might be the best work of her film career so far. Foy is the soul of the film, bouncing off Gosling’s more reserved turn with ease.

The star of show is nevertheless Chazelle, who surprises here with a different kind of directing style than what we’re use too from him. Chazelle gets up and close and personal here using shaky-cam and quick cuts to add a real tension to the film. Perfectly portraying the horror of the mission, we see the full extent of what Armstrong and the other astronauts had to face during their time in the NASA programme. The scenes inside the rockets are especially terrifying and nerve-racking, adding a real claustrophobic feel to events. A clear stand out moment being a rocket launch attempt shot almost entirely inside Gosling’s helmet, one of many outstanding sequences in the movie.

Despite the gritty approach, the film is still absolutely gorgeous. There are some stunning visuals throughout, even more impressive when you note the mere $59 million budget, especially during the third act with the beautifully recognised moon on full display.

First Man will make you realise just how difficult these space assignments were, the sheer uncertainty that these astronauts were ever going to make it home and just how difficult that must’ve been for their families. A spectacular movie, one which impeccably balances the character and the mission. Not to be missed.

Verdict: Phenomenal performances, astonishing directing and stunning visuals cements First Man as a clear contender for film of the year. A magnificent achievement.
Best Moment: The opening scene is an edge of your seat thrill ride
Rating: 9/10