If you have been following this blog you know my relationship with director Damien Chazelle has been a bit rocky. I always want to love his movies like everyone else but usually leave thinking they are just ok. There is always something in his portrayal of dreamers leaving me wanting more. Wanting more understanding of what drives them to put up with a mad man in Whiplash or leaving their true love to chase their movie dreams in La La Land. So this year with his film First Man, about Neil Armstrong, I was hopeful it would be the first film of Chazelle’s repertoire to move me into the love camp. Unfortunately the opposite has occurred and it is definitely my least favorite of his movies.
There are some impressive things about First Man. While relying way too much on close-ups (a trend I hate!), the cinematography and space set pieces were very striking. Also the performances by Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy and Kyle Chandler were all excellent with what they were given to do. Unfortunately, those impressive visuals were shot with a handheld camera style and were very shaky. For someone with a weak stomach it was almost too much. However, if you don’t have those problems they are impressive sequences.
My problem with the film was the script. Aside from a few glimpses of emotion at the death of his daughter, I never got any sense of feeling or personality from Neil Armstrong. I guess they were trying to portray him as being on the spectrum but that doesn’t mean he needs to have the same flat expression at all times. I didn’t feel like I got to know him as a person- his idiosyncrasies, his passions. I don’t even know why he wanted to go to the moon? In Apollo 13 we have the scene where Tom Hanks puts his thumb over the moon and he talks about his dreams. We needed something like that here.
Because I wasn’t invested in Neil Armstrong’s journey it made the movie kind of boring and flat. They didn’t do a good job of building up the characters at NASA like in Apollo 13 and aside from his wife getting upset a couple of times it was all flat and business-like.
I guess when it comes down to it I like my inspirational stories to be inspirational (go figure right?). Some may balk at a movie like Hidden Figures or October Sky and call them pedestrian but I left those movies inspired and wanting to do great things. Surely a movie about Neil Armstrong should give me such a feeling? Are we so elevated these days that we don’t need heroes but they all have to be whittled down to ordinary people who show up for work every day? Even a minor character in Apollo 13 like Gary Sinise’s astronaut who got bumped from the shuttle had an arc and an emotional journey I could relate to. Here I just didn’t get that.
So good job Neil Armstrong. You’re our hero. This movie however didn’t do you justice
(Also the flag controversy was mostly caused because of a dumb interview Gosling gave but it does show an overall scorning of heroic moments by Chazelle, which did not work for me)
Ranked 72 out of 114 of 2018 Films
14 thoughts on “First Man Review”
I’m at pains to point out that ‘First Man’ DOES provide a reason for Armstrong going to the moon: the death of his daughter. [Light Spoilers Follow]
Karen Armstrong dying is what prompts Neil to join the Apollo program, and in the final moments of the film, we see him drop Karen’s bracelet into one of the Moon’s craters. To claim that the film gave him no motivation to go there is just plain wrong.
It’s also worth mentioning that Armstrong himself was a very reclusive person, hence why Gosling rarely emotes.
Anyhow, I’m done moaning. Please keep up the good work Rachel, I enjoy reading all of your reviews. 🙂
I did mention in the review there were a few moments of emotion with the death of his daughter but for most of the movie I found him flat and emotionless and I didnt really see why the daughter while painful was motivation for the moon in particular. I know a lot of people were moved by the bracelet but it didnt do much for me because I hadnt gotten to know the character or really care about him. I know others did but that was my experience
I don’t think Neil Armstrong was portrayed in Hidden Figures, was he?
Oops. You’re right. It was John Glenn on Hidden Figures. Will fix
Just saw it and I liked it – I’m a fan of Chazelles work so was very worried and whilst it probably is my least favourite of his, I still really enjoyed it!
I loved the performances and cinematography but, as you said, didn’t feel as inspired as I would have liked (agree in preferring Hidden Figures) and it was quite the slow burner.
But overall, I really enjoyed my experience and actually got quite a lot out of Gosling’s performance and what he was going through 🙂
Awesome. I’m glad to see most agree Hidden Figures is much better
Oh bummer. I’ve seen it twice now and it is one of my favorite movies of the year. I loved Chazelle’s personal focus and how he put us into the skin of a truly reluctant hero. I especially liked my second viewing on IMAX.
Cool. I’m glad you enjoyed it. If he was a reluctant hero why wasnt he more torn or conflicted? I didnt see that. I like that idea in theory but it didnt come through for me if that’s what they were going for
That’s interesting. I think he was torn but he buried it instead of dealing with it. He buried it in his work which made him an incredible astronaut but slowly hurt his life at home with his wife and children. He constantly closed himself off. I think the moon sequence was symbolic of him letting go, but by the end we are left to wonder if he will be able to do so. I guess that is how it spoke to me.
Interesting. I felt like they were trying to show him being on the spectrum so he was awkward but never really conflicted about going into space. He seemed just kind of unaware to me in a lot of those home scenes. I can see your take though. I wish it had moved me but he just seemed flat and bland the whole time to me
What a shame. I wish you could “love [Damien Chazelle’s] movies like everyone else” as you say in your review too. I loved this film.
Yeah it’s a bummer.
Loved the way you put it. Very interesting point of view, you can check my latest reviews of new released movies