HOLLYWOOD—For those thinking that the biopic about astronaut Neil Armstrong would be something dazzling with Oscar-winner Damian Chazelle behind the camera and Ryan Gosling in the starring role, think again. “First Man,” while a triumph in some aspects is not the dramatic after punch expected. Don’t expect “Whiplash” or even “La La Land” standards.
This is a drama at its core and its hard core drama and depending on your taste you will either adore “First Man” for what it attempts to do, or leave the theater wanting so much more. The movie has great elements, but not everything syncs on a grand scale. Gosling is a perfect casting choice for our stoic, NASA test pilot Neil Armstrong. It’s not all about fitting the look, but Gosling brings that firm demeanor to a man, whose emotions are not always clear.
The flick opens highlighting the notion that Armstrong’s skills are not as sharp as a direct result of his daughter suffering from a brain tumor. The movie attempts to connect with the audience with that story development, but it never pushes the envelope that a viewer wants to see. Your daughter is dying she is deftly ill, we want to see you grieve or show some sort of reaction; similar to what most Americans might do in a similar situation. We don’t see that from Neil, but we see it from his wife, Janet, played with intensity by Claire Foy.
Some have argued that Foy’s performance is limited in scope. Her presence is felt, but it seems like she is the primary character showing emotion, while everyone else is focused on the country’s goal to make it a mission to the moon. The family is slightly in turmoil with the death of a child, but that is not explored as much in the narrative. Things transition to Neil and his family moving to Houston, where another addition is added to the family, and the focus turns to Apollo 11 which is tasked to complete a successful launch to the moon before the Soviets make it happen.
“First Man” gives the sense to the audience that Neil Armstrong didn’t care as much about his family and this mission was a way for him to deal with his grief. I would argue that is not the case. This movie is a character portrait; the audience is getting an inside look into the mind of Neil Armstrong to the best that the filmmakers could produce. The film does not lack talent with Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Pablo Schreiber, Christopher Abbott and Patrick Fugit, as part of the cast. The issue is there is a lack of female characters present in the movie, beyond Janet; the others are only valid in passing. Could that change the dynamic of the movie? Not sure, with a biopic you expect the narrative to remain as true to the story as much as possible, but I wanted more from this movie that I just did not get.
Chazelle’s abilities behind the camera are not questionable; he does an exceptional job crafting a story with the script provided. There lies the problem though; the script is slightly weak in terms of theatrics. There isn’t much sensationalism or extra fluff added to the film to entertain the audiences and that is where the boredom creeps in. As a viewer you will look at your watch a few times hoping to see when the movie might conclude, there are long periods of boredom and that is unfortunate for a film that tells a story that is quite important.
Look if you want a history lesson or to be educated on a time in American history that was monumental “First Man” is the perfect movie. If you want a flick with a bit of flare and performances that stick with you far after the film ends you’re not going to get that with this movie.