First Man showcases some of Hollywood’s finest talents, but is a bit underwhelming overall

First Man showcases some of Hollywoods finest talents, but is a bit underwhelming overall

While browsing through Celebration Cinema’s current lineup, it was quite clear that, lately, Hollywood has been very generous in offering an array of quality films; however, when I saw that First Man had been released, I could hardly pass up the opportunity to see Ryan Gosling on the big screen.

So, of course, my hopes were set high. After all, First Man has a compelling storyline on its side, has already attracted Oscar buzz, and has the ever-talented and ever-beautiful Ryan Gosling as its front-runner.

Directed by Damien Chazelle of La La Land fame, First Man is a biopic look at the life and journey of Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) during the tense times of the Space Race in the 60s. The movie spans over a large part of the famed decade, opening with the tragic death of Armstrong’s two-year-old daughter in 1962 and ending with his iconic walk on the moon in 1969.

I found myself marveling at the complexities and arcs of the mission to the moon. It seems that history has allowed the glory of man’s first step on the moon to shroud the details of Armstrong and NASA’s rather fascinating journey to the moon in undeserving darkness. The movie does an admirable job of bringing that story to justice with just enough fictionalized elements thrown in to make for a movie that fits Hollywood’s status quo.

From the death of Armstrong’s daughter acting as an emotional turning point and launchpad, to political pressures goading on the Space Race, to public outcry at the lives and taxpayer dollars the mission cost, First Man covers much of the detail that has perhaps been lost in translation in the decades following the astounding accomplishments of the team behind Apollo 11.

Despite the riveting and impressive story, however, First Man as a whole was a bit underwhelming, and my hopes were slightly dashed. At a whopping 142 minutes, it is a rather long film; I found myself getting bored or distracted throughout the less interesting parts of the film, waiting for the movie to pick back up again or just end. Whether I felt this way because I chose to go to the movie theater at eight on a Sunday night, when looming thoughts of homework and school are at their most intrusive or because space is just not my thing, I don’t know.

Nevertheless, I still think the movie was a solid piece of art, and it had two saving graces that kept me from walking out like my fellow movie-goers in the theater: the masterful acting and cinematography.

Those two elements working in tandem made for some of the most beautiful, breathtaking individual scenes I have ever seen. Through the heart-wrenching and too-frequent funerals Armstrong had to attend (from his toddler daughter to the many astronauts who died on the road to the moon) to the climactic moment when he finally stepped foot on the moon after so much hard work and heartbreak, this story held the potential to provide some truly raw, poignant scenes, and Chazelle delivered just that.

Unsurprisingly, considering Chazelle’s tour de force is an Oscar-winning musical, the score is the unsung hero of First Man. As an avid La La Land fan, I had great expectations for the score, and I think it certainly lived up. Composed by Justin Hurwitz, another La La Land veteran, the score provides cathartic and moving background music to a deeply emotional story.

While Chazelle and Hurwitz certainly played key roles in orchestrating some of the movie’s most stunning scenes, the acting performances were also integral to providing that standard.

Gosling, first and foremost, showcased some of his most powerful acting. Taking on the high-pressure role of such a big name, he perfectly portrayed the brooding emotions often swirling underneath the surface of Armstrong’s stoic nature, as well as his softer, sweeter side he often only showed to his wife and kids. Armstrong clearly presented a very difficult role, combining characteristics of a steadfast, intensely dedicated astronaut with a loving, but strained and overworked, family man. Moreover, Armstrong faces a myriad of emotionally draining events through the entirety of the movie, ranging from an array of deaths to the strenuous effects of the Space Race on his job, family life, etc. Despite all this, Gosling delivers a brilliant performance.

An often overlooked figure in the moon-landing story, Armstrong’s wife during this time period, Janet Armstrong (Claire Foy), is one of the most significant characters in the movie. Foy, too, took on a difficult role; Janet faced the same familial hardships as Neil and more, battling the loss of her daughter. However, she also had to be the support of her young family as her husband remained in and out of the house because of his life-threatening job. Foy effortlessly portrays this strong, resilient woman in a commendable performance.

All things considered, First Man tells a captivating story, not only of one of our nation’s greatest moments but of a complex, iconic man. It is utterly teeming with the talent of some of Hollywood’s finest; objectively speaking, however, it’s not the greatest movie I’ve ever seen. While interesting in plot, it is just not the most entertaining movie of all time. I can’t say I would watch this movie again, but I’m certainly glad I watched it once.