First Man – Damien Chazelle (2018)

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Damien Chazelle has done it again by bringing to the big screen one of humanity’s greatest triumphs over the forces of nature. But whilst showing the audience the grandiose historical achievement, he also manages to tie in the personal story of a man of few words. Neil Armstrong will go down in history as a legend, and this film does not fall short of paying his story the respect it deserves.

Continuing his practically flawless streak in feature films, Damien Chazelle brings the life of legendary astronaut Neil Armstrong to the big screen. Astonishingly historically accurate whilst also managing to balance dramatic tension, Chazelle has masterfully crafted one of the most effective biopics of this generation. First Man exhibits all the best parts of Chazelle’s tried and true style. Rhythmic editing, believable and natural pacing, effective and deliberate directing of the cast all brought together under an excellent soundtrack makes this film arguably the best that Chazelle has come out with, which is an enormous praise considering his last two films were Oscar favourites.

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Ryan Gosling splendidly portrays a stoic Neil Armstrong. True to the real-life hero, Gosling’s depiction is a man of few words, with a clear dream of being the first man to do something nobody else on Earth had managed to do. The obsession comes across clearly, but there is also regret and pain in the performance that Chazelle brings out of Gosling with a wonderful emotional pay off. This film isn’t full of grand speeches about great men triumphing in face of great adversity. The film instead focuses on real men, attempting to do that which is considered impossible, with all the effects that can have on their loved ones. Claire Foy plays Janet Armstrong, the incredibly strong-willed woman that Neil must leave behind on Earth. The chemistry between them is tangible, and the relationship is utterly believable. It would’ve been incredibly easy to make this film about one man’s glory from the admiration of his country, but in fact what ends up being more powerful, is one man’s obsession and the unwavering support he gets from his family.

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Chazelle has proven time and again that he has a raw talent for pacing and editing. Whiplash (2014) featured some of the most stylish and rhythmic editing that audiences had ever seen, and naturally it follows that First Man does too. There is never a dull moment throughout this film. Every scene has a purpose (which is quite an achievement in a 140-minute film). By the time the famous Apollo mission is on the screen, you desperately want it to go smoothly just as every character in the film does. The emotional pay off for all the build-up is well worth the wait, and it is not as though you will not be entertained throughout.
Furthermore, the film features stylish cinematography that blurs the lines behind handheld, documentary style filmmaking and purposeful cinematic techniques. Close ups create an intimacy with the characters, whereas grand wide shots remind the audience of the scale of the task these people undertook, and what it cost to get them there. The last 20 minutes of the film are almost entirely visual with little to no dialogue resulting in astonishingly beautiful imagery that ties the emotional motivation behind the plot together effectively which might leave some audience members in tears. Not just because of the personal triumph of Armstrong’s story, but also what it means for human kind on a larger scale.

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It is no question that First Man will be an Oscar favourite this year, as have Chazelle’s previous feature outings. The film is expertly structured, effectively written, and masterfully executed. Stylish to the end, Chazelle does more than just bring to life the story of a man in search of glory. He brings to life a story of one human being doing what nobody else could do. It’s a must see for this year and absolutely does Neil Armstrong’s story justice.

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