First Man has vivid, luminous cinematography, but it’s hard to say what it’s really about

It’s hard to discern Damien Chazelle’s motive for making this Neil Armstrong biopic, his first film since La La Land.

Gimmickry has proved commercially advantageous for the director Damien Chazelle. His 2014 debut, Whiplash, was snappy and severe, as though the character of the sadistic jazz tutor who gave the movie its kick had also been in charge of the editing. Its follow-up, La La Land, was a rather smug transposing of 1940s-style Hollywood musical conventions to a 21st-century setting. If there is a gimmick in his third film then it’s far less flashy in nature. From the bone-rattling opening sequence of First Man, Chazelle resolves for the most part to keep the camera either nose-to-nose with, or behind the eyes of, the movie’s hero, resisting the temptation to marvel at his achievements from afar.

That hero is Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling in his second film with Chazelle after La La Land) and the challenge for First Man is to bring suspense and dread to a mission that we already know to have been a success. It does this not only by quantifying the human cost of Nasa’s lunar missions between 1961 and 1969 (those who died, or whose lives were irrevocably damaged, along the way) but also by trapping us in the astronaut’s perspective. In those sequences when Armstrong is heading for the stars, the approach is so immersive on a sensory level – cacophonous sound design, juddering cinematography verging on the abstract – that it almost compensates for the void at the film’s core.

The writer Josh Singer has form in the area of unexceptional screenplays based on real-life events (The Post, Spotlight, The Fifth Estate) and his work here, adapted from James R Hansen’s book, is the film’s weakest element. In the absence of insights into …read more

Source:: New Statesman


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