First Man (2018)
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Lukas Haas
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Synopsis: Bio-pic about Neil Armstrong and the years leading up to his infamous and historic Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969.
What works: The supposed attention to detail is phenomenal. Even if you’re just a casual fan of NASA and the history of the Gemini/Apollo missions, you should see this just for the experience. Most of the movie is filmed in such a way that it feels like you’re with Armstrong and crew in those crafts and modules. The very first scene is Neil in his X-15 rocket-powered plane which has a mishap and it feels claustrophobic, frightening and as intense as it could without actually being there. A lot of the film is framed that way. I was actually wondering if there would be any long shots of the spacecraft in blast-off or in orbit and there’s very little. In a way, that could be bad for some viewers who could have slight claustrophobic tendencies. Even when Armstrong has to manually land the lunar module because they overshot the original landing is shot in this cockpit mode. It’s as close to a first-hand experience as you can possibly get from Armstrong’s (or Buzz Aldrin’s) perspective.
The visuals alone is what truly makes this movie worthwhile. The lunar landscape is outstanding and a marvel to see.
The score was great. I really liked the somewhat original and weird orchestration that Justin Hurwitz concocted. Not too many scores include theremins these days. And while that particular odd instrument is usually invokes a schlocky 1950s martian invasion vibe, here its subtle and lush enough to sound very pleasant and heightens the film’s emotions.
Claire Foy should’ve been nominated for an Oscar for her role as Neil’s wife, Janet. I just realized that she lost the Golden Globe but I never give a hot shit for the Globes anyway. But she was easily the best acting aspect in this flick. Which brings me to….
What fails: Ugggghhhh, Ryan Gosling! I want to like him so much. I think he has the chops to be a fantastic actor in his own right but he’s quickly becoming the least charismatic actor since Chuck Norris. He always looks bored or unhappy to be in every movie he’s in. He’s always glum, reserved or juts plain aloof. I don’t know anything about Neil Armstrong’s personal life, history or personality but if he was actually that quiet and reserved as Gosling played him than bravo on the casting then. But sheesh. But since The Notebook, I’ve seen Gosling in about half a dozen flicks and he’s always the same woebegone guy. But he’s not alone because this cast is probably my least favorite crop of actors ever assembled. Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler and Corey Stoll are all fine guys I’m sure but so far have not shown me anything to be impressed about.
The film is dull. I’m not afraid to say it but a film about the space race and achieving the near-impossible of landing safely on the moon should be a tad more exciting. Compared to The Right Stuff, this film is a long, slow trodding scene by scene recreation devoid of any fun, thrills or emotion. One scene cuts to the next without much consequence or circumstance. It’s as if it was the most expensive History Channel production. Just wish it wasn’t so serious all the time.
And why in the seven hells was this movie released last October and not this month being that it’s the 50th anniversary of the historic event? Such a dumb move by Universal.
Overall: I can’t nitpick this movie too much because there was a lot of care and attention to the details of the events of the Gemini/Apollo missions. Even though it was kinda dull and boring and devoid of a lot of decent emotional scenes, this was a perfect movie to watch this week due to the anniversary. I certainly didn’t hate it but I’m not sure if I’d ever see it again either. I would recommend it though for history and NASA buffs.
Score: 5 Small Steps (out of 10)