First Man - This Move Space Rocks
Dir: Damien Chazelle
Starring Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Cory Stoll, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Ciaran Hinds, Patrick Fugit, Lukas Haas
So, how many reviews of First Man do you think have opened with a “One small step…” gag? Or a “…one giant leap for mankind” reference. But not us – we’re too classy for that. (And no, that last bit doesn’t count – but this next bit could be accused.) For this is neither a small step, nor a giant leap for Damien Chazelle, but proof that the man is now three for three. Whiplash, La La Land and now First Man constitute one of the greatest opening salvos in Hollywood history, each hugely impressive in their own distinctive way, and each imbued with a style that can very clearly be labelled “signature.”
First Man is, very basically, a remarkable film. One that looks at one of the greatest achievements of humankind and finds nothing but humanity in it. One that despite a lengthy running time, never features am extraneous moment or unneeded scene. Indeed, Chazelle presents it almost as a model of economy in storytelling, eschewing elaborate effects and often rushing his handheld camera around relentlessly to cut to the chase in small intimate scenes as well as huge scale life-changing ones.
We said “Wow!” And then we said “Wow!” again.
As first man on the moon Neil Armstrong, Ryan Gosling is perfectly cast. There’s something about that actor’s deliberate refusal to over emote, to allow the subtlest of his expressions to speak volumes that perfectly matches (at least) the public persona of the always reluctant astronaut. And he is splendidly met by Claire Foy as his wife Janet, who delivers a performance so beyond that of the “wife indoors” role so common in such fare, as to be all but guaranteed her first Oscar nod next year.
Add to that a stellar supporting cast (pun not intended – but the subconscious is a terrible thing) – Stoll, Chandler, Hinds, Fugit and more – and performance-wise, you can clearly see that Chazelle knows what he’s doing when it comes to handling his actors.
But First Man is so much more than just a performance film. It’s a film that seeks to viscerally capture the very being of space travel and lunar exploration and does it to a level that none of us are in any position to question. Backed by superb work from several of his La La collaborators – most notably Justin Hurwitz’s compelling score and Linus Sandgren’s luminescent cinematography, First Man is hugely impressive on not just a technical level, but a deeply emotive one as well. Takes you to the moon – but more importantly takes you home again.
First Man opens October 12
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