A still from the film 'First Man'. (Source: YouTube) Photograph:( Others )
'First Man' shows Armstrong in a very different light- of a man who is troubled by a personal tragedy and who struggles hard to overcome his grief to be a part of the NASA mission.
Damien Chazelle's last outing at the movies was the vibrant, sublime musical 'La La Land'. There was so much happening on screen at any given point of time in that film. His latest 'First Man'- a biopic on the first man on Moon, Neil Armstrong, has dramatically different in terms of context, scale, and treatment.
While the world knows that Neil Armstrong took the historic leap for the mankind in July 1969, the incidents that run up to the historic moment are rather unknown.
Chazelle's story humanizes the American hero. The world knows Armstrong as a hero, who went on to create history not only for the country but also for the world itself. But 'The First Man' shows Armstrong in a very different light- of a man who is troubled by a personal tragedy and who struggles hard to overcome his grief to be a part of the NASA mission.
He is not your typical hero but a reluctant participant to ego battle between USA and USSR on space supremacy that dominated world politics in the 1960s. When USSR landed on space before America, it became a matter of prestige for the Americans to land on the moon first. Armstrong was incidentally not the first choice. The film reveals how NASA's several failed missions also took away some senior astronaut and Armstrong was the only (best) option left.
Much like Chizelle's 'La La Land', 'First Man' is also technically superb. The scale at which its mounted is enormous. To create the 1960s era- a time when America was still taking baby steps towards space mission is stark different from how the spaceships etc are designed. To create that era with so much perfection takes time and precision, which the film manages pretty well. A word on the film's fabulous sound, which exhilarates at the right moment and goes completely silent at the other moments to make the viewer understand the magnanimity of the situation.
Much like the film's technical aspects, the lead cast is pitch perfect. Ryan Gosling brings in a great amount of maturity to his performance as Neil Armstrong. The actor pulls off the reluctant hero's role with absolute ease and you get how awkward he is being in the spotlight yet responsible enough to not quit under pressure. 'The Crown' star Claire Foy plays Armstrong's wife who wants to be a pillar of support to her husband but is also scared about his life and whether he would make it back from the moon.
The only problem with the film is that it gives silences and montage shots a bit too much of importance. There are too many scenes where the characters are not speaking and just emoting. Which is okay as long as there is some movement on the screen. But in this film's case, space is restricted- a lot of the scenes are inside some spacecraft- and what we get to see are close up shots of Goslings face. After a point, the narrative tends to become a bit monotonous.
'First Man' is a perfect film to glorify America's supremacy in space. But it should be lauded also for showing a very human side of a hero who is lauded in history to date.