‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind…’
Damien Chazelle is already one of the most exciting and polarising directors in Hollywood. Whiplash was an Oscar winning masterpiece that many people couldn’t get on with and La La Land split audiences down the middle like a particularly symmetrical Cheesestring. For what it’s worth, I thought La La Land was an instant classic. A musical that someone who dislikes musicals could get on board with.
Ryan Gosling also divides opinion. I would cite Half Nelson and Drive as two of the best films of the last 20 years, whereas others see them as self-indulgent waffle. One thing you could always bank on with Chazelle and Gosling is that they are never dull. Until now…
Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is a family man recovering from tragedy by throwing himself into his dream of becoming an astronaut. Meanwhile, his long suffering wife Janet (Claire Foy) struggles to overcome her own trepidation about the mission.
Now. I recently re-watched the classic Tom Hanks vehicle Apollo 13. I laughed, I cried, I ate a donut. That last thing is unrelated but anyway, I digress. Because I watched that minor classic so recently, it is impossible not to draw parallels between the two. First Man is a plodding, highly accurate look at what it takes to become an astronaut. That means lots of long shots of rockets taking off and landing with little dialogue. Lots of close ups of Ryan Gosling’s, admittedly beautiful, face. Lots of people looking worried. In short, I feel like I still don’t know much about Neil Armstrong as a man, but I now know loads about space travel procedure. This is not really what I signed up for when I devoted over two hours of my fat life to First Man.
If you are really, really interested in the practical side of the moon landings then this is the film for you. For pretty much everyone else I suggest you return to the warm embrace of Tom Hanks and Apollo 13.