‘First Man’ is the third, and arguably most ambitious, film to come from Damien Chazelle. Following the immense success of ‘La La Land’ Chazelle has now moved into a new genre of docudrama. This 2-hour long epic follows Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) and that other guy on their treacherous journey to the moon.
Compared to what I’ve seen of the Moon Landings before, this film certainly feels refreshing. As opposed to the saturated patriotism that we’re used to being shown, this film goes deeper. It explores in far greater depth the mental toll this experience would have had on the men and their families. Claire Foy routinely demonstrates her talent as a demanding screen presence in everything she’s done prior to this so it’s no surprise that she delivers an immensely compelling performance here. As Armstrong’s wife (Janet Armstrong) she’s sadly not in it enough, but that’s no surprise. Despite doing something refreshing in nearly every other aspect of the film I suppose it would have been asking too much of Chazelle to give a woman an interesting role that gave an actress more than 15 minutes of screen time.
But having said this, Chazelle is attempting to do something new here. He allows Gosling’s character (Armstrong) to be vulnerable. Given the environment of NASA, the late 50s and even today, it’s refreshing to see a powerful man be human. He isn’t the stoic, emotionless figure Armstrong portrays to the world and what, as an audience, we’re used to being shown. It’s this core of the film that makes it unique. Along with Chazelle’s use of extreme shaky cam and murmured dialogue which, although slightly off putting at times, places you firmly within their world for the duration of the film.
This film is complex but the beautiful music, the incredible landscapes and the intense realism of the film is what keeps you hooked. Unfortunately for me it did feel long. However, I feel if I gave it a second viewing I could appreciate it more. The talent of the actors and the sheer scale of the film makes it too difficult to dismiss the film entirely just because it felt slightly too long.