First Man
dir Damien Chazelle
scr Josh Singer
prd Marty Bowen, Damien Chazelle, Wyck Godfrey, Isaac Klausner
with Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Ciaran Hinds, Patrick Fugit, Pablo Schreiber, Christopher Abbott, Lukas Haas, Ethan Embry, Shea Whigham
release US/UK 12.Oct.18
18/US Universal 2h21
First Man
The right stuff: Gosling and crew

foy clarke chandler
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
First Man Damien Chazelle and Ryan Gosling reteam for another film that examines the cost of ambition. This is the story of Neil Armstrong's preparation for the Apollo 11 moon mission, and it's told in an unusually thoughtful way that relies on quiet moments of personal drama rather than the usual bold exhilaration of aerospace achievement. And this subtle approach gives the film several singular thrills.

In the early 1960s, test pilot Neil (Gosling) understands that pushing the envelope teaches him how to push even further. Still recovering from the loss of a young daughter, he and his wife Janet (Foy) are excited to join Nasa's astronaut lineup. The understand the very real risks and seize on President Kennedy's challenge to get to the moon within the decade. Sure enough, Neil becomes commander of the iconic mission alongside Buzz Aldrin (Stoll) and Jim Lovell (Schreiber). But Janet worries that he is internalising the experience, leaving her and their children outside.

Cinematographer Linus Sandgren shoots in a period style, with grainy visuals that match the shaky, clanky mechanics. These aren't sleek, gliding spaceships; they're rattly rockets that always seem on the verge of breaking down simply because the exhaustive testing still doesn't prepare them for travelling so far from home. And the astronauts are similarly prepared and yet unready for the emotions these flights bring up. So Singer's script remains internal even when the story heads to space.

Within this ensemble of white men, the actors bring out each guy's distinctive personality. Since everything is seen through Neil's eyes, Gosling is the only one who gets to dig deep into his character's undercurrents. The film isn't interested in explaining actions or understanding motivations; it's more focussed on sharing his experience, letting the audience feel it along with him. In this sense, Foy offers us a way in. So even though she remains on the side, she is a powerful force throughout the film.

Chazelle expertly balances the film's wondrous visuals (the effects are seamless) with the more pungent emotionality. As the story builds toward the moon landing, it gains an edgy sense of urgency. We may know how the story ends, but we begin to understand how it must have felt for those who weren't so sure. And by avoiding the temptation to end on a note of rah-rah triumphalism, Chazelle reminds us that the most important thing about this story is that normal men did something astonishing that day.

cert 12 themes, language 25.Sep.18

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... First Man Still waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.

© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall