First Man (2018): Film Review
The concept of space exploration is not an unfamiliar one in the film industry. Particularly in the idea of exploration to the moon and beyond, the concept has been recycled over and over again through the history of film. These kinds of films don't confide to just one genre; as there have been movies about space that were dramas, comedies, westerns, horror films, and every other genre imaginable. So, there is no apparent genre that must be used when making a film about space exploration. For his third project, 33 year old Academy Award winning director Damien Chazelle takes the audience through the soaring journey of astronaut Neil Armstrong, and the mission to the moon that took so much effort, and so many lives, to complete successfully. Throughout the 141 minute film, Chazelle takes the story quite differently than any other filmmaker has taken it before, and it works pretty well, for the most part at least. The plot of the film is a simple one, and a story known to many around the world, from 1969 to today. It tells the story of Neil Armstrong's (and copilot Buzz Aldrin) tumultuous journey to be the first country to land, and take foot, on the moon. We start from his early days at NASA, and see all the events that led up to the "Giant leap for all mankind." His family life is shown, and we see just how he interacted with other people. For the first time, thanks to Chazelle's directing, we really get to see inside of the life of the "first man", which is truly remarkable. Regardless of its flaws, First Man is completely different than any other space movie ever seen before. And that is thanks to it's intricate and complicated camerawork. Although I was not able to see the film on an IMAX screen, I truly wish I had been able to, as First Man marks the first time that the "shaky camera" technique that plagues so many films was actually pulled off, and successfully. In every rocket scene (and there are a lot of them sprinkled throughout the film), the camera is at it's most shakiest, building a new sense of anxiety, and making you feel like you were right there, staring at the actual footage that occurred on those days. All of this amazing camerawork and directorial styles are aided by two spectacular performances from leading man Ryan Gosling and leading woman Claire Foy, who elevate the characters and truly bring them to life, in a movie that truly needs them to be alive. The biggest problem with First Man is the pacing and length of the story, as the film clocks in at almost two and a half hours, and is extremely slow for the first act or so. It takes a while to fully divulge into the story, but once Chazelle throws us into "Project Gemini" and "Project Apollo's" hardships, the film begins to launch at rocket speed (literally), and it becomes insanely entertaining to watch. Although Chazelle's direction is quite different (and very good), it is hard to imagine that he is the soul behind the cameras, as the film is so different from La La Land or Whiplash. It is much longer, the stakes are much higher, and there is so much story to tell. But, Chazelle handles the task very well, and proves that jazz stories and sing-a-longs aren't the only things he can truly excel in directing. The bottom line is this: although First Man tells a familiar story, and doesn't really add anything story wise, brilliant acting and excellent camerawork truly make it a film to remember from this year. It may not be amazing, or spectacular in the end, but it is a good watch that is easy to thoroughly enjoy. And that is more than enough for me.