First Man is the kind of picture that can be attractive on the surface simply based on the moments. That’s true even when you know it will not include the iconic and historic act of planting the American flag on the moon. For some, these moments being brought to life might be enough to at least check it out one day, but I left the theater knowing they could have done a whole lot more than what they did.
After their successful collaboration in making La La Land, Damien Chazzelle and Ryan Gosling reteam to tell the story of NASA’s mission to be the first people on Earth to ever land on the moon. With Neil Armstrong (Gosling) as the central figure, the movie explores the sacrifices that all involved had to make. From their home lives, to the training, and everything they endured in the face of danger, we’re asked to see just about everything that went into an enormous achievement that looked to be nothing short of impossible in the eyes of many around the world.
Before touching on the reason people would be interested in seeing First Man, I’ll speak about the personality and energy of the film. During the run of the entire movie, these two aspects played a major factor in how I received what was being given to us. I found this to be lacking in both those areas, and I was a bit taken aback by that. A large chunk of the blame has to go to Ryan Gosling seeing as he is the guy who has the most screen time. I don’t know why he chose to play Armstrong like this, but his performance was eerily reminiscent of his character from Blade Runner 2049 since there’s not a lot there.
There are moments when some personality and energy begins to shine, but the vanilla vice grip that’s always present proved to be too powerful to break through completely. Whenever it looked liked we were getting somewhere with this, it would be halted and rushed back into blandness. Obviously, that’s not what you want in any film, but that’s especially true for a picture that can potentially provide something that can be perceived as highly valuable for viewers.
Whenever this occurs, the film becomes tedious, but there are some positives outside of these moments. This comes when the focus shifts onto the attempts of the astronauts to improve their skills and eventually soar to the moon. If these portions were displayed as the focal point throughout, I’d be able to recommend this movie to just about anyone. Instead, these segments find themselves having to share time with Neil Armstrong’s personal life.
As I essentially stated earlier, this is where the movie truly struggles and falters. During scenes like this in any movie, we should have a chance to bond with the characters while getting to know them. Here, that never happens since almost everything we’re presented with is superficial and insipid. This happens because they rarely ever go deep enough and we’re usually just watching Armstrong play with his kids or talk with his fellow astronauts over beers.
These scenes represent the perfect time to at least show the personalities of the people we’re asked to follow, but the sense of detachment is noticeable and disrupts things. While they struggle in these scenes, they could have potentially made up for it if the people in the story outside of Armstrong were able to add a bit more life to it all. In reality, that didn’t happen, because the only character who shows any consistent personality is Corey Stoll’s Buzz Aldrin. Unfortunately, he’s not in it enough to bolster what is lacking everywhere else.
It’s easy to understand why someone would want to make a movie about Neil Armstrong and an event as historic as the first ever moon landing. The movie alone should be seen as a major event and would likely have the potential to win a few awards off of its subject matter if it’s handled somewhat properly. Sadly, it wasn’t crafted the way it needed to be and will likely not reach the heights that it hopes to. I’m sure it will get some nominations, but I’d be surprised if it wins too much of anything anywhere.
There are some good moments to get out of First Man, but there aren’t enough to turn it into something I’d be willing to watch again all the way through. That’s strange when you take into account that Damien Chazzelle also directed La La Land. That Academy Award winning feature had Ryan Gosling in the lead role as well, and had plenty of life and emotion flowing through it. I know it’s not the same type of movie, but you would expect that the person who was behind that would be able to breathe some life into his very next project as well.
Director: Damien Chazelle
Film Length: 141 minutes
Release Date: October 12, 2018
Distributor: Universal Pictures
- Score - 4/104/10