Movie Review: ‘First Man’

by Hunter Johnson

Damien Chazelle has been an up and coming name in the world of directing for several years now. He’s best know for his most recent film, “La La Land,” which garnered six academy awards and was a huge hit with audiences.

Now, Chazelle is back with his newest film, “First Man.” It’s Chazelle’s fourth film he’s directed, but it’s the first that’s not centered around music. The movie follows the story of Neil Armstrong in his years leading up to becoming the first man on the moon.

Ryan Gosling stars in the leading role. Yet again, Gosling demonstrates his incredible talent as an actor. After working with Chazelle in “La La Land” as a passionate and outspoken person, it’s a wonder how Gosling manages to brings so much gravitas and depth to a real-life person who was notably known as a quiet and introverted personality.

Claire Foy plays Neil’s wife, Janet Armstrong, and she almost steals the entire show from Gosling. Foy brilliantly plays a wife who spends most of the movie keeping her thoughts to herself. She completely inhabits the character of Janet, bringing all the charisma in the world to this quiet but determined person.

This film is nearly impossible to discuss without also discussing Damien Chazelle. Had he not been attached as director, this film probably would’ve just ended up as a mildly entertaining space-themed movie. Instead, what audiences get is a deep and intimate look at the life of Neil Armstrong and the missions themselves.

The film features at least three major sequences of Neil going up into space and they are absolutely mind-blowing. Chazelle’s goal was to put the audience in the actual cockpit of the aircrafts. This means, rather than watching a lot of wide shots of the spaceships launching into space, audiences instead get to experience exactly what Armstrong was experiencing in those moments: claustrophobic and jarring moments of bright lights, loud spacecraft and beautiful views. These sequences fully demonstrate how Chazelle’s artistic genius. He captures what it’s like to be in space so beautifully and at the same time, so terrifyingly.

Damien Chazelle has never done a film without his composer Justin Hurwitz. Hurwitz composed the score for “First Man” and created a gorgeous sound that emphasizes the melodic and lyrical nature of space. And while Chazelle’s previous films didn’t have many chances to have scenes of a quiet nature, this film has many scenes that allow Hurwitz the chance to show both his restraint and his subtleties, creating a wonderful score.

One issue that many viewers will undoubtedly have with this film is its length. The film runs at just under two and a half hours and it becomes increasingly noticeable as the film progresses. There are several moments in the film that the story starts to drag. It could benefit from being edited down twenty minutes or so. The problem with such a long runtime is that even though the film is brilliant in its own right, nearly every audience member knows how this story is going to end and they really just want to see how it will be executed.

Overall, this film is a visual and technical masterpiece. Every spacecraft scene is meticulously crafted in ways that no one but Chazelle could’ve dreamed up, the sound and music in this film is ear-poppingly gorgeous, and Gosling and Foy are both terrific to watch. Some audiences were worried that because this is Chazelle’s first film not centered around music, it would be his first failure, but clearly, he is a name to continue looking out for in years to come.

Hunter Johnson is a sophomore theatre major and an arts and entertainment writer for Cedars. He spends his time acting on stage, reading and watching Star Wars, and occasionally doing homework.

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