15th Oct2018

‘First Man’ Review

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Pablo Schreiber, Christopher Abbott, Ethan Embry, Ciarán Hinds, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Shea Whigham, Patrick Fugit, Lukas Haas | Written by Josh Singer | Directed by Damien Chazelle

first-man-poster

Damien Chazelle is hot off the heels with his fourth feature after two highly critically acclaimed entries into his vastly growing filmography: with the Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons starring vehicle Whiplash and with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in the Oscar-winning musical/drama La La Land. Both ultimately bringing him to the forefront of young talent in Hollywood and the avenues for future endeavours endless. His follow up First Man, reuniting him with leading actor Gosling, takes him on a different path from the exploration of music rhythmic sections to a more nuanced and ultimately exhilarating path of restraint; albeit manic examination of a crowning achievement of mankind in the moon landings, but specifically the journey and analysis of psyche in Neil Armstrong himself.

Chazelle superbly explores the mind and ego of Armstrong in a restraint and exquisite manner. The level of depth is restraint and left bubbling to a degree of pure sincerity. Arguably the main ingredients are the spectacular work of Gosling, who personifies the perils and torments of grief, anxiety and depression in the human form with a calculated stoic force and euphoria. Not better have we seen it done than that of Toni Collette or Essie Davis in Hereditary and The Babadook respectively. Both haunting portraits of women in emotional turmoil, expertly performed in the genre of horror. Not necessarily the genre one would suppose for such a dry and restraint performance in that of a biopic, which ultimately descends into that of melodrama before long, but not Chazelle’s First Man.

It is that of Gosling’s role that makes the film so much more endearing and powerful, thankfully more human. Even in the face of uncertainty and technological advancements, Armstrong has demons. He’s weighted down with the prospect of life in his wife and children, whom he becomes merely a vessel when with. The responsibility he has, but also the troubled acceptance of neglect and invisibility he has within his home. A factor that in time of Armstrong’s grief he puts himself forward to the Gemini task that merely needs to keep him consumed for the meantime slowly becomes his complete and utter devotion. Therefore his grief or lack thereof becomes stagnated and rough. It is this notion and idea that propels him to tackle the heights and terror that lay before him. His face tells the story far better than any screenplay could, which could also explain the heaviy gravitas and sentiments delivered as this is this first film directed by Chazelle that he didn’t also write. Josh Singer takes that mantel and delivers a screenplay that has scope and depth, although is a basic cookie cutter example of having everything while having a limited knowleagable insight into the events itself.

It is at the end of the day this emotional resonance from the likes of Claire Foy’s tormented role of that Janet Armstrong, who battles life head on here on earth with raising her family in the wake of marital and public distress. Combating the behavioural issues of her children as her Husband has a moment of terror in orbit and the fact that in the wake of parental devastation she finds the strength to continue is an elegant angle to all the proceedings and headlines. It does lack a sense of grandiose in terms of the score by frequent collaborator Justin Hurwitz which is rather poor and subdued. Yet, unironically gave way to a far more impactful visceral and visual experience with the edit by Tom Cross and cinematography by Linus Sandgren, who put together an astonishing spectacle to observe. Especially that of First Man‘s last act. A tension and atmospheric ride of belief and human transcendence.

First Man is in UK cinemas now.

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