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Synopsis: On the heels of their six-time Academy Award®-winning smash, La La Land, Oscar®-winning director Damien Chazelle and star Ryan Gosling re-team for Universal Pictures’ First Man, the riveting story of NASA’s mission to land a man on the moon, focusing on Neil Armstrong and the years 1961-1969. A visceral, first-person account, based on the book by James R. Hansen, the movie will explore the sacrifices and the cost—on Armstrong and on the nation—of one of the most dangerous missions in history. (Universal Pictures)
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, and Jason Clarke
Writer: Josh Singer
Director: Damien Chazelle
Rating: PG-13 (United States)
Running Time: 138mins
Damien Chazelle is one of the best directors working today. Now he has a new movie that is again different from his previous films with this biographical drama based on Neil Armstrong (Gosling) and NASA’s mission to land a man on the moon. Firstly, this film is a technical marvel from the way it was shot using many different styles, from 16mm to IMAX, to its epic score, to its incredible editing and sound design. The film approaches the subject matter with such authenticity that it felt like watching a documentary at times from the infancy of the Apollo mission to the eventual stepping down on the moon and the uttering of that famous line.
The moon mission part of the story was compelling to watch but just as much as the story was about the moon mission, it was also about Armstrong and his wife Janet (Foy). The story of Neil and Janet was where the film faltered. It wasn’t Janet fault, however, since it was difficult to get emotionally invested in his story because of Neil’s almost cold nature. Armstrong was a man of few words who despised the spotlight. His determination was admirable but he lacked enough emotion despite all the tragedies he faced on his path towards the moon. Janet cared very much for her husband and he for her but he still kept her at arms length just like everyone else. Because of the film’s focus on Neil and Janet, none of the other characters mattered all that much.
The acting was great for the most part with Gosling and Foy standing out by default as Neil and Janet. They were much better individually than together as their chemistry was questionable. Gosling did the best he could as Neil, aiming for the strong, silent type. For the most part, he succeeds but his subdued performance did not create much excitement. Foy had some strong moments as Janet, elevating the role from the cliche worried wife at home.
Overall, this was an undeniable technical marvel where Chazelle is at the top of his game. The buildup to the Apollo mission was compelling to watch, however, the relationship between the Armstrongs wasn’t nearly as strong. Ultimately, its sense of coldness created an emotional disconnect between the viewer and the characters that made it difficult to become emotionally invested in the story.