“First Man” shows that not all small steps are giant leaps by Ryan Bell

Nearly fifty years after mankind first set foot on the moon, acclaimed director Damien Chazelle has created a nonfiction biopic of famous Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong entitled “First Man.” Chazelle previously saw directorial success with Oscar-nominated films “Whiplash” and “La La Land,” the latter of which won him Best Director. Additionally, “La La Land” star Ryan Gosling has reunited with Chazelle, playing the role of Armstrong himself alongside Claire Foy as Janet Armstrong and Corey Stoll as Buzz Aldrin. Unfortunately, while Chazelle certainly brings some impressive technical aspects to his latest film, it does little in the way of keeping the two and a half hour runtime all that engaging.

All Photos Courtesy of Universal Studios

The most impressive aspect of the film is its visual presentation. Much of the scenes are shot with a very grainy, low-quality camera effect to emulate the feeling of old 60’s films. This alone is a creative way to establish a setting, but the camera choice takes on a whole new meaning when the story reaches the moon and an ultrawide, high-quality IMAX becomes the primary choice of camera. The sharp contrast between the old, grainy earth and the pristine, sharp moon makes for a very fascinating contrast that symbolizes the astronauts reaching a new frontier. The whole scene gives the viewer a sense of awe and wonder at the new world that the characters have reached, something not many films can convey through a visual change alone.

Unfortunately, even some parts of the visuals are a bit lackluster. It seemed as if the camera was constantly moving in and out of focus, meaning that at any given time Ryan Gosling could be crystal clear or a blur of color and movement. This wasn’t helped by the purposely shaky handheld camera work and the overabundance of close-ups. There were also multiple points where the camera zoomed in unexpectedly fast which came off as more goofy than intense, distracting from the storyline. The scenes during the launches, while effective at conveying the chaos of a space shuttle taking off, became nauseating to watch as the film went on because of the abrasive camera work.

The performances by Gosling, Foy, and Stroll are captivating and true to the real-life people they’re portraying. Gosling’s performance stands out as stoic and unemotional, but in a way that isn’t underacted and fits the character. He’s able to convey Armstrong’s coldness without seeming robotic, especially in scenes involving conflict with other characters. The various other supporting actors all convey their characters equally well, and there seemed to be no unfortunate performances. The well-written dialogue is never awkwardly delivered and none of the characters felt two-dimensional, even if they played a smaller role in the overall story.

The plot of the film takes place in chronological order from Armstrong’s entry into Project Gemini (NASA’s second human spaceflight program before the famous Apollo) until shortly after his return from the moon, telling the entire story from 1961-1969 in two and a half hours. While this may seem like a relatively short runtime considering the large subject matter, the film’s pacing is incredibly slow. A bulk of the runtime is made up of long, repetitive space launches from the perspective of the astronauts (with the aforementioned shaky cam). While these depictions are certainly interesting for viewers the first couple of times, potential interest quickly grows stale after you’re subjected to it over and over again.

However, there are a few enthralling scenes sprinkled throughout, such as the segment where a dramatic event at a test launch occurs while Armstrong visits the White House, leading to a significant change in his mood. Some of the space training scenes near the beginning of the movie were also entertaining and effective because of the “wow” factor and the information revealed about Armstrong’s character. But again, the film’s relentlessly drawn out runtime makes it difficult to enjoy these diamonds in the rough.

“First Man” feels about as interesting as reading a Wikipedia entry about Apollo 11. Sure, some elements would be compelling to learn more about, but it appears that Chazelle neglected these concepts to focus more screen time on the extended space launch sequences. Combined with jarring cinematography and an iceberg slow pace, “First Man” is less of a giant leap for Damien Chazelle and more of a small step.



Universal Studios

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.