From a musical in Los Angeles to a trip to the moon. You can’t say the shift in genres ain’t fascinating for Chazelle.
The story looks like it’s about the journey that lead up to Neil Armstrong’s trip to the moon and all the trials and tribulations it took to get there.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Ryan Gosling (BLADE RUNNER 2049 , THE NICE GUYS , and BIG SHORT ), Claire Foy (UNSANE , LADY IN THE VAN , and the upcoming THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB ), Kyle Chandler (GAME NIGHT , MANCHESTER BY THE SEA , CAROL , THE KINGDOM , and upcoming films GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS  and GODZILLA VS. KONG ), Corey Stoll (THE SEAGULL , GOLD , CAFE SOCIETY , ANT-MAN , and MIDNIGHT IN PARIS ), and Jason Clarke (CHAPPAQUIDDICK , EVEREST , and SERENITY  and PET SEMATARY ).
In support, we have Shea Whigham (SICARIO 2 , KONG , STAR TREK 3 , FAST & FURIOUS 6 , FAST & FURIOUS , and upcoming films VICE  and JOKER ), Ciará Hinds (RED SPARROW , JUSTICE LEAGUE , BLEED FOR THIS , HITMAN 2 , FROZEN , HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2 , and the upcoming THE THIN MAN ), Christopher Abbott (IT COMES AT NIGHT , WTF , and upcoming films VOX LUX  and FULL-DRESS ), Lukas Haas (THE REVENANT , and upcoming films FRANK AND AVA  and WIDOWS ), and Cory Michael Smith (WONDERSTRUCK  and CAROL).
Now for the crew. Directing, we have Damien Chazelle, known for LA LA LAND (2016). Penning the screenplay is Josh Singer, known for THE POST (2018) and SPOTLIGHT (2016). Composing the score is Justin Hurwitz, known for LA LA LAND. The cinematographer is Linus Sandgren, known for BATTLE OF THE SEXES (2017), LA LA LAND, JOY (2015), and the upcoming THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS (2018). Finally, the editor is Tom Cross, known for GREATEST SHOWMAN (2017) and JOY.
Overall, I’m sure this is going to be really good. Just calling it, I don’t think it’s going to be my favorite, but it’s going to be good. There’s great talent in front of and behind the camera, so there’s going to be a quality film here.
This is my honest opinion of: FIRST MAN
Set from 1961 to 1969. Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is a pilot who gets himself hired into the Gemini program that plans to take astronauts to the moon, but must first overcome the many hurdles that will get them there. On top of that, Neil struggles with the death of his daughter and must find that balance between his work and being home with his wife Janet (Claire Foy) and their two sons, and dealing with the sacrifices along the way.
Yet another movie where I don’t quite know how to feel about. Objectively speaking, I say that this is an extremely well-made film, and it is legitimately good, but there’s something about it that sort of bothers me. Let’s see if I come up with anything.
You know what it is for me? I don’t think I really connected to the characters. It’s not like the actors are bad, or anything. In fact, completely the opposite. The performances are great. The stuff with baby Karen was great, but it’s almost everything after that doesn’t quite reach the emotional high that I was hoping for. There are scenes that are supposed to serve that function, showing him laughing with his wife, playing with his kids and all that, but that’s not exactly showing who he is as a character. We know he’s smart, we know he suffers when he loses his daughter, we know he loses friends, and we can even understand why he becomes distant from Janet.
There’s subtlety in the movie, don’t get me wrong, and I really don’t want to sound like Gosling doesn’t have his moments, but the character depicted wasn’t pushed as far as he could have been pushed. The movie really pushes that Neil never talks about his daughter, and that never gets resolved between him and his wife. Yes, yes, there’s the ending where he leaves behind Karen’s bracelet, and that’s supposed to be symbolic of him letting her go, but that doesn’t feel like that’s what the movie was supposed to be resolving. The main theme seemed to be about Neil talking about Karen to come to terms with her death with either his friends or his wife. So… the movie sort of cheapens the mental relief of confronting your emotions with your loved one who literally knows how you feel… by doing it on his own? By traveling TO THE MOON to deal with his loss? So is the movie saying that men shouldn’t talk about their problems, but rather travel very far away to escape your family and everyone deal with loss alone? A lot of good that really does when you learn that Neil and Janet ended up divorced. I probably shouldn’t be so hung up on this one element of the story, especially considering how meticulously accurate this movie was made and did so much right. But when one of the final shots of the movie is of Neil letting go of that little bracelet, something that is supposed to be a serious powerhouse of emotional impact, that has to mean something and I don’t think it meant nearly as much as the movie wanted audiences to believe.
But before anyone starts thinking that I don’t like this movie, it’s best to start talking about the positives.
I think the most emotional moments from the movie aren’t necessarily from the movie itself and its portrayal of the men who were involved with this whole fiasco, but rather the hindsight effect. Like, when you think about how many people gave their lives in all these test flights and considering what kind of mistakes were made, it can really hit home. It makes you feel sad, and even a little bit angry. A loose wire is what killed these men? All that training, the journey to the moon itself not exactly being a cake-walk in of itself, preparing the family for the eventuality that the mission to the moon itself will be what kills them, and it’s a loose wire that does them in? Long before they even get to try to go to the moon. But then you swing back around to realize that this is math, science, and technology that hadn’t ever been done before. There were bound to be mistakes and in the world of science, no amount of double, triple, or quadruple checking the numbers can ever prepare for the execution going sideways. It’s the retrospect that gets me more than anything else.
I previously mentioned that this movie was meticulously made to be an accurate portrayal of space travel, and I have to say, I believe it. At least, the taking off stuff. There is some violent shaking when the crafts lift off and such. It’s intense, so if your local AMC theater is playing it in D-Box, I might recommend giving this a go. At the very least, I saw this in IMAX, so the immersion is absolutely visceral. Hell, see it in Dolby Atmos, which is better for sound and something’s telling me you’re in for a hell of ride, and I only barely mean that as a metaphor. So the sound design and mixing is top notch and I wouldn’t be surprised if this movie got nominated for it’s technical aspects, and it’d be well deserved.
Here’s a little information that a lot of people tend to forget: billions of dollars were put into the project and not all of America was okay with it. Lots of televised protests and the like. I actually didn’t know that. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised as anything that costs billions of dollars will set more than a few Americans to question why and to offer alternatives to what that money could be used for. Actually, I think I saw archived footage of a picket sign saying that in the movie. This is definitely a question that comes up a lot in interviews too. Anyway, I’m glad to see that this movie makes a nod to that.
There’s even a fair share of great humor. Like when the training starts and they go on the 3-axe spinning machine. Of course, Neil goes first and is the first to barf in the bathroom. But then a moment later, we see Eddie White (Jason Clarke) come in, have this bro-macho look on his face, clearly giving off a “I’m not here to do what you think I’m about to do” vibe. But then Neil side steps and then Eddie makes a beeline to the toilet and vomits. Won’t lie, that cracked me up. And I also enjoyed the brief banter in the next scene where Neil is sitting at a table and Janet comes in and he says that what he’s looking at is “kinda neat.” Then she’s all like, “What’s neat about it?” Then he goes into technobabble about how space travel is actually the opposite of what’s taught in flight school, but when the math is worked out, it makes sense. Therefore, it’s kinda neat. Then Janet agrees and they start laughing like a cute couple. That was a cute moment.
Overall, while I can’t claim to know how accurate the movie is to the real events (actually, there are a few liberties taken with what scene takes place when), the movie is does get you sucked in when it matters most. I may not necessarily agree with the way the characters are portrayed, but it’s still a really good film. I don’t love it, but as a recommendation, I say it’s worth seeing, especially in Dolby Atmos if it’s available. Otherwise, D-BOX, or worse comes to worse, IMAX.
My honest rating for FIRST MAN: a strong 4/5
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