With deft performances and truly immersive filmmaking, “First Man” gives important focus to the man behind a crucial moment in history. Despite controversy centered around the planting of the flag, the film shows a great achievement in a close and almost claustrophobic way.
Based on the biography by James R. Hansen, “First Man” focuses on Neil Armstrong’s (Ryan Gosling) journey to becoming the first person to set foot on the moon. It follows the struggles many faced and the men who gave their lives in the pursuit of traveling to the moon. Neil was a very reserved man that had trouble expressing and sharing his emotions. His wife, Janet (Claire Foy), has to watch many of her friends lose their loved ones and live in fear that she could experience the same. All the trials and advancements that were necessary to land on the moon display how important the mission was at the time and why America kept persevering.
Director Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash” and “La La Land”) shows the more intimate moments rather than just the broad key points that occurred. He places the audience in the cockpit with Armstrong and the other pilots and all the anxiety that comes with it. Chazelle brings many the closest they will ever get to leave Earth’s atmosphere.
In terms of cinematography, the film looks fantastic. There is a little bit of shakiness during simple shots, but most of the movement happens during intense space flight moments. It can seem a little dark at times, but there are moments of light and amazement that overshadows the general bleakness of the film. The final shots of the moon are eerily realistic and deserve to be seen on the big screen.
The film does display many of the events as depressing, but given the risks of failure and the failures that do occur, it makes sense that events were portrayed as grimmer than most would expect. Most of the behind the scenes information changes the perception about what was going on. The movie centers on Neil Armstrong’s view of events and experiences rather than the public’s perception.
Furthermore, it shows Neil’s personal drive and the struggle he goes through while dealing with the death of his daughter. Ryan Gosling does a great job of expressing the subtle emotions of a man who struggled to show his. Claire Foy also does an excellent job of showing the descent of anxiety Janet felt as the final mission moved closer and closer. Many characters are shown in a new light and illuminate the people behind the space projects.
The acting cements the film in the time period and allows the story to play out naturally without getting too political. Controversy aside, “First Man” stands as a technical achievement in film as well as an intense look back at a man who never wanted to be a hero.