At the ripe young age of thirty three Damien Chazelle has created two of the most awe-inspiring films in modern cinema - Whiplash and La La Land. Within three years the man has surely achieved what some directors will never achieve in their entire lifetimes. Moving on from musical and music drama, Chazelle tackles his first biopic - sketching the events building to the 1969 moon landing. His story focuses primarily on Neil Armstrong, his family life and the personal demons that haunt him leading up to the Apollo 11 mission.
Justin Hurwitz returns with a spine-tingling score that is fittingly out of this world. Chazelle shoots for the moon and stars in this incredible space drama, rocket-fuelled by some truly spellbinding visual moments. All the same, First Man lacks the Chazelle wow-factor seen in his previous adventures. With harsh, intense close-up action First Man emphasises the nerve shredding and claustrophobic conditions of space exploration, placing you firmly within the cockpit. Rather surprisingly, Chazelle has a limited choice of shots and angles - in great contrast to his beautifully indulgent previous works. His approach is deliberately stark and muted but neglects a certain touch of cinema magic. Chazelle doesn't flaunt the same punchy visuals that made his earlier films instant hits but admittedly he does attempt something different, which is surely fair enough. Even though First Man doesn’t have the same zing and zap as his music based offerings, it still remains a stunning achievement.
In reality First Man is a bitter sweet adventure about loss and grief, which subtly questions the motives and reasons for space exploration. This story isn't about the Apollo 11 expedition alone, it's more about Neil Armstrong and his crippling personal trauma - and the constant tension between Ryan Gosling and Clare Foy is what really resonates with you. Once his daughter falls unwell Armstrong's goal draws added meaning, he ponders how "We explore to uncover things we may not have seen previously", referencing his NASA mission alongside the fate of his daughter. First Man is a very intimate and personal take on a pivotal event in history - opening up a whole new insight into a space tale that's been told hundreds of times before.
Gosling's portrayal of Neil Armstrong is intentionally stoic but somewhat detached from the audience as a result. He remains silently determined throughout - a performance authentic and subtle but seemingly isolated. Of course this is all part of Chazelle's gritty, bona fide vision but as a protagonist, it's difficult to empathise with Gosling. In contrast The Crown star Clare Foy returns with yet another dominant and compelling performance to add to her CV. Remarkably engaging, Foy impresses with a far more vocal and expressive performance than her co-star.
First Man is at the bottom of Chazelle's three features although it almost feels unfair to say it - however he still creates an effective biopic drama that boasts oodles of original, tense space scenes. Justin Hurwitz delivers a consistent and chilling score that conjures the dazzling intergalactic images before your eyes - moreover the sound design is simply magnificent - eerie and often overwhelming. Even though it may not snatch the same number of awards it's hoping for - First Man really is yet another impressive and picturesque feat from Chazelle.
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Hi I’m James - a huge welcome to my film blog! I started this site just after my 14th birthday and have been bringing you my own take on the hottest box office arrivals and many art house triumphs ever since.