“First Man” is an intimate look at the life of a grand figure, showing audiences that every story, no matter how historic it seems, is grounded in humanity.
The film follows Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) as he prepares for one of the most daring adventures humanity has ever faced — walking on the moon. However, director Damien Chazelle, known for his work on “La La Land” and “Whiplash,” takes a new approach by focusing on Armstrong’s family, how his mission affects them and how they affect his mission.
“First Man,” while succeeding as a powerful tale about family as a defining factor in one’s life, suffers in the beginning due to its nearly unbearable slow pace. The film tends to slow down in the smaller moments, testing the audience for every ounce of patience they have. However, at the end of the day, the payoff is worth it. While the storyline could have moved faster at times, “First Man” excels in taking a slow-burn, humanized approach to such a heroized figure.
By approaching Armstrong’s character through the eyes of his family, specifically through his wife (Claire Foy), Chazelle finds an entirely new way to present Armstrong. Using such an approach allows viewers to become completely immersed and engaged in such a familiar story. While “First Man” could have very easily ended up as just another standard biopic that lazily travels through the life of Armstrong, it instead is a thoughtful drama, centered around the themes of self-reflection through family.
Despite appearing as a spectacle at times, such as the dazzling sequence on the moon, “First Man” thrives as a film that explores the sobering dynamics of the Armstrong family. That being said, the film is stunning to look at throughout, and once again proves how talented Chazelle is at crafting a visually and audibly beautiful film. Chazelle creates an aesthetic completely different than he has before, bringing a small town “Friday Night Lights” look to the film, which creates a much more personal and intimate story. Reteaming with “La La Land” composer Justin Hurwitz, Chazelle ensures the riveting score adds suspense to the film, while being quite memorable. Additionally, cinematographer Linus Sandgren does not disappoint with the sequences on the moon featuring some of the most gorgeous shots of the entire film.
Perhaps the biggest achievement of “First Man” is that it displays the pure range of Chazelle as a director and writer. After astonishing audiences with the lavish musical “La La Land,” Chazelle follows with a much more grounded and dramatic film. While the slow-burn can harm the film at times, it ultimately pays off with rewarding moments fueled by the smaller, more character-centric scenes. Chazelle shows exactly why he garners respect at such a young age, as he is capable of an immense amount of cinematic range.
In the end, “First Man” is far from perfect. It is too slow at times and seems to lack the ability to make progress. Despite these flaws, the film ends on a beautifully emotional note that takes advantage of all of the moments the film may have lingered on throughout. “First Man” proves once more that Damien Chazelle is up for almost any challenge.