First Man is a Touching Family Drama

Chirag Mangnaik

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4/5

 

Space movies have, traditionally, been death-defying, effects-oriented tales of man against the very worst of nature. What makes The Martian, Apollo 13, Gravity, and other such space movies appealing are their ingenuity. It is incredibly thrilling to see Matt Damon or Sandra Bullock come up with innovative ways to survive insurmountable odds. But, when it came to First Man, Damien Chazelle apparently threw away the rulebook.

First Man tells the story of Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), the first man to set foot on the moon. Rather than follow Howard’s footsteps and focus on Neil Armstrong’s cleverness and his problem-solving, Chazelle chooses to tell the story of a Neil Armstrong that none of us knew. He tells the story of a man whose daughter died at the age of two, and whose wife (Claire Foy) hardly sees him because he’s so wrapped up in his work. In fact, it feels more like a family drama rather than a space film.

One of the most notable elements of First Man is its cinematography. The camera always follows a face, or a hand or some action very closely. There are very few sweeping or cinematic shots. It’s reminiscent of some of Hoytema’s work, like Her or Let the Right One In. The cinematography puts the audience as close as it can to Neil Armstrong so that we can sense even the slightest fluctuations in emotion. It puts us intimately close to the character, to the point where the movie almost feels as though it’s told through his eyes.

The script, by Josh Singer, is adapted from First Man: The Life of Neil Armstrong by James R. Hansen. It is a very bold script that doesn’t shy away from making assumptions about Armstrong’s life. Some of the best true story films are films that run with the character that they’ve created rather than complete accuracy. Other films introduce random things about their character that seem irrelevant. Singer somehow straddles the line perfectly, remaining true to both the real events and his protagonist’s persona.

With an excellent cast and a powerhouse of a script, First Man is a movie capable of holding the audience’s attention from start to finish without ever seeming dry or dragging. Chazelle uses his personal approach to his advantage, delivering an emotional story of a man who is trying to get over the death of his daughter. First Man shows that Chazelle is capable of stepping out of his comfort zone.

 

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