First Man Review: Chazelle’s more personal approach results in a boring take on Armstrong’s world impact.
Writer/Director Damien Chazelle has seen some massive success in recent years with films like Whiplash and La La Land. Both films not only captured the attention of many moviegoers, but have also earned him some great acclaim during awards seasons. Even for not caring for La La Land, I still found myself excited to see Chazelle’s take on one of the most impactful stories in human history.
Unfortunately, with First Man, Chazelle captures Neil Armstrong’s journey to being the first man to land on the moon with some solid precision, but just couldn’t find an entertaining angle to make audiences connect with Armstrong. Having Ryan Gosling in the shoes of the iconic American hero was definitely the right call as he captures Armstrong’s more calm and stoic demeanor that he was known for. Not to mention, his internal struggles of dealing with a death in the family and the idea that he may never be able to return home.
While interesting on paper, this portrayal of Armstrong isn’t exactly compelling and even though, as said before, his struggle is shown more internally, it still doesn’t make it him the most interesting person to watch. Armstrong can honestly come off as boring and uncaring in First Man as he constantly seems as if he isn’t fazed by other astronauts’ deaths and he keeps his stoic personality throughout the film so if Neil Armstrong was really a charismatic and caring person, you wouldn’t know it from First Man.
This is only made worse from the film taking a personal approach to Armstrong’s story and kind of ignoring its other characters in the film. The solid performances by Claire Foy as Neil’s wife and Jason Clarke as astronaut Edward White are completely overshadowed and not shown much care compared to Gosling’s Armstrong and never feel that important. Even Cory Stoll’s Buzz Aldrin is pretty much sidelined and it’s unfortunate as these characters could’ve made the story much more exciting and added some personality to the film.
There is also an odd lack of world-building because of this more personal approach. It felt odd that John F. Kennedy’s impact on the program, before and after his death, is pretty much non-existent and even the training Armstrong and the other astronauts had to endure to get space ready is just a scene or two. Moments like these could’ve brought audiences in deeper to what made Armstrong so special and how much was needed for him to make it to space. Having these scenes be relegated to just a few moments felt a little off and constantly going back to Armstrong’s personal life really made the film drag.
So even though the film can feel slow when on the ground, it delivers on bringing the high stake thrills many were hoping to see. Chazelle really does an excellent job with making audiences feel like they are in the ship with great sound design and great use of first-person perspective. There are also moments that are horrifyingly realistic and feel incredibly authentic. The film’s moments in space are truly ones that won’t be forgotten and are the biggest highlights of the film as a whole.
Now all of this isn’t to say that First Man is a bad film; it’s definitely a solid outing for Chazelle, but it’s ultimately disappointing. The solid work behind the camera and interesting performances just can’t outweigh the boring nature of the film and for a moment that was truly world impacting, it never really feels like it. Frankly, even though this is probably going to rake it up awards, its honestly worth skipping as there are just more interesting biopics already out there and more that are coming.