Thoughts on First Man (2018)

First Man (2018), Damien Chazelle’s third feature film, turns out to be a mainstream blockbuster that finally shows how great he is with kinetic energy, but also that he still has some work to do on the drama front. Matt Zoller Seitz has a spot-on review, so I’ll limit myself to a few comments.

The title tells only half the story: First Man is about Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) in relation to his vocation; the family aspect is there mostly because it would be absurd if it weren’t. But the script (by Josh Singer) really doesn’t care enough about the home front to give wife Janet (Claire Foy) an independent existence apart from caring for the kids and worrying about Neil. As for Gosling, his role bears comparison with another emotionally inexpressive engineer in endless mourning: John Cho in Searching (2018). While that film has more clichés, Cho is much more readable, and thus relatable.

The launch sequences are unparalleled—Interstellar (2014) saw the promised land but couldn’t get there itself. And the lunar sequences, Samit Sarkar points out, get an expanded aspect ratio on IMAX screens, even Digital IMAX ones. But, once again, I had issues with the domestic scenes. The handheld camerawork (by Linus Sandgren) on the innumerable closeups of Neil are well-motivated (though I question the recent trend of almost exclusive closeup filmmaking, as I’ve previously mentioned), but what about the mostly handheld midrange shots? What purpose could possibly be served by keeping the image from being completely still when nothing too exciting is happening? All it made me think of was that perhaps Neil wasn’t just repressed but mentally unstable (which is obviously not the case).

Last, but certainly not least, I have unqualified praise for the gorgeous poster.

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Editor’s note: A full review has been published at The News Lens International.

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