Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Movie with Abe: First Man

First Man
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Released October 12, 2018

Damien Chazelle is a remarkably accomplished filmmaker, winning an Oscar shortly after his thirty-second birthday for his third feature film. His first big feature splash, “Whiplash,” based on his short film of the same name, was a searing look at a young musician and the teacher who tormented him to compel him to success. His next film, “La La Land,” was a bold and magnificent revival of the musical genre, one that was met with acclaim from many and backlash from others. He’s demonstrated an incredible talent, and therefore it’s no surprise that his next film should be equally ambitious, though it’s nothing like his previous work.

Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is an intelligent and passionate engineer and pilot whose early career quickly takes him to NASA, where beating the Soviet Union into space was a clear priority. Armstrong’s dedication to his work is based in part on the loss of his daughter at a young age, straining his relationship with his wife, Janet (Claire Foy), and his other children. Much effort and many mistakes, some resulting in the deaths of those closest to Armstrong, lead to his history-making mission that cement him as the first man to walk on the moon, taking one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

Whereas Chazelle’s previous films have dealt with music on both a very focused and very grand scale, this project approaches his subject from an altogether different vantage point. Armstrong is first seen hurtling up into space in a small aircraft that doesn’t seem nearly stable or large enough to get him there safely, and that’s just one of many such scenes that attempt to capture the feeling of launching into the atmosphere as something utterly terrifying and far from guaranteed to end safely. It’s an intimate portrayal of the process of going into space set in the context of a sprawling story of the extensive efforts undertaken to make it possible, with a predictably excellent score from Justin Hurwitz fit for this kind of film.

Gosling, who starred in Chazelle’s most recent film before this, has just the right reserved energy to play Armstrong, a man driven by a need to succeed and tormented by losses out of his control. Foy, fresh off an Emmy win for “The Crown,” makes a very strong transition to cinema in a formidable performance as Janet, not content to be thought of merely as a wife to be controlled. Many notable actors, including Jason Clarke, Corey Stoll, and Kyle Chandler, appear in key supporting roles to underscore just how vast an undertaking putting man on the moon truly was. The film’s lengthy runtime contains moments in which it, seemingly purposely, feels endless, but the strong moments of breathless flight and tremendous awe make up for any lulls, creating an ultimately well-rounded and resounding cinematic experience.


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