First Man (2018)

First Man
Director: Damien Chazelle
Writer: Josh Singer, James R. Hansen
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Patrick Fugit, Christopher Abbott, Ciarán Hinds, Olivia Hamilton, Pablo Schreiber, Shea Whigham, Lukas Haas, Ethan Embry, Brian d’Arcy James, Cory Michael Smith, Kris Rey
Seen on: 26.11.2018

Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and his wife Janet (Claire Foy) just lost their little daughter to cancer, prompting Neil, who also had some professional disappointments, to apply for a new program at NASA. They all move to Houston and Neil starts working on the Gemini project – the most important project in the space race between the USA and the Soviet Union. But it will take a while before Neil and Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) undertake their historic flight to the moon.

First Man is made of excellent parts that nevertheless feels underwhelming as those excellent parts don’t really make for an excellent whole – even if I can’t put my finger on why that’s the case.

The film poster, showing an astronaut (Ryan Gosling) in profile.

The most outstanding and absolutely fantastic part of the film is Justin Hurwitz‘ soundtrack. The song that they played during the actual moon landing alone almost gave me a heart-attack because it manages to transmit such a sense of urgency and tension. And that despite the fact that we of course all know that Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the moon and nothing happened to them.

But it’s not just that scene – the film is carried long stretches by the soundtrack. It does have some nice shots, as well, and the cast is generally strong, but they pale in comparison to the soundtrack.

An astronaut (Ryan Gosling) in front of a column of smoke and flame.

Unfortunately the film doesn’t take enough time to work on its characters apart from Armstrong himself. They mostly remain flat and a lot of the astronauts were completely interchangeable to me. If I had known more about them going, this would surely have been different, but like most people (probably), I was aware of Armstrong and Aldrin and the rest were unknown to me before seeing the film – and pretty much still are. And even Armstrong, the character the film definitely puts a lot of work in, remains way too smooth.

Even though the film kept me engaged and interested throughout and was well-made, it just didn’t make me enthusiastic. Maybe if they had found a couple of seconds to not focus on a white dude, it would have resonated more with me. But whatever it was, the film just left me shrugging.

A group of astronauts in uniform.

Summarizing: yeah, well, okay.

2 thoughts on “First Man (2018)

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with this review, especially concerning the soundtrack, which – together with some incredible visuals, especially during the moon landing – was definitely it’s greatest asset.

    If you’d like to know more about the Apollo-missions, I recommend the 12-part HBO-miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon”.

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