First Man should have been a slam dunk for me. The Space Race has always been one of my favorite periods in history. In my theatrical review of First Man, I made mention of how I tried to meet Neil Armstrong several times. Yet, something in this movie struck me wrong. A singular focus brought to the space race makes you over-examine the participants. What do I mean?
Ryan Gosling could be this generation’s Brando. That’s big praise, but he’s the only one actively attacking the process in the same way. When that approach is applied to a person like Neil Armstrong, you’re hitting bedrock. Neil Armstrong is pretty straightforward and private to a degree. What is known about him, even through deep research is a short list of about 4 or 5 things. Even the film realizes that you’re not going to find any sordid secrets about the guy. So, the final chunk of the film delves into deep space spectacle.
The Apollo 11 mission’s crew carries so much legend to them that attempts to break it down goes one of two ways. Learn something that you didn’t know about Astronaut X or kill the audience with the thrill of space exploration. Director Damien Chazelle bit at both apples and split the audience. I guess that explains why I only like half of the movie. But, damn if Claire Foy wasn’t great in it!
But, even Foy suffers from the film’s inability to pick a direction. This is coming from five viewings of the film now. If First Man had chosen to focus on Neil Armstrong as a father and his guilt for not saving Karen…that could be something. It’s just that Chazelle like many directors before him wants to be their stamp on space exploration. Armstrong’s motivations ebb and flow, as Claire Foy seems to improv any sort of emotional response to Armstrong’s friends burning to death.
If you want to make The Right Stuff, then make that movie. In an age where spectacle dominates content, I’m not sure if it’s even necessary anymore. What irritates me is how the film starts on a high point and then tries to tie back into that point with one of the film’s last meaningful scenes. Quit teasing me, Chazelle.
It’s super hard to be this critical of a movie that you really liked, but fell short. Honestly, I think it suffers more from the baggage placed upon it when the script was in the hands of Eastwood and Spielberg. There wasn’t a point in this film where I thought I was seeing something that came from Chazelle. Oh well…maybe next time.
First Man special features
- Deleted Scenes
- Shooting for the Moon – Take an intimate look at the production of FIRST MAN and the collaborative relationship between Director Damien Chazelle and Ryan Gosling.
- Preparing to Launch – It’s difficult to believe that FIRST MAN is the first major feature film to tell the journey to Apollo 11. Hear from Director Damien Chazelle and his cast why now is the time to tell the story of this historic event.
- Giant Leap in One Small Step – A heroic character study, FIRST MAN sheds light on all the hard working individuals that got us to the moon and back.
- Mission Gone Wrong – Watch as Ryan Gosling reenacts a test piloting sequence gone terribly wrong. Go behind the scenes to see how he trained to nail the landing, performing the majority of his own stunts.
- Putting You In the Seat – Through the use of innovative technology, most of FIRST MAN was shot in-camera. Take an in-depth look behind the lens of this epic film.
- Recreating the Moon Landing – Filmed in IMAX to show the vastness of the moon, find out all that it took to recreate the most famous moment in NASA history.
- Shooting at NASA – Hear from Ryan Gosling and Director Damien Chazelle on how shooting at NASA brought unparalleled authenticity to FIRST MAN.
- Astronaut Training – Go behind the scenes of the three day boot camp each of the actors underwent prior to filming FIRST MAN.
- Feature Commentary with Director Damien Chazelle, Screenwriter Josh Singer and Editor Tom Cross