First Man (2018)

As far as I can remember, I've never been a fan of biopics, specifically of those about American heroes portrayed like perfect human beings. Also, movies involving space travel didn't always appeal to me. In other words, Damien Chazelle, director of two masterpieces, Whiplash and La La Land —fight me—, is the only reason I watched First Man

Just in case you have never heard of this movie before, it is a biographical drama on the life of astronaut Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling). It is set between 1961 and 1969 and follows the journey that made Armstrong become the first man to walk on the moon.

The plot was my biggest concern prior to seeing the movie as I was afraid it'd be just a boring and obviously predictable sequence of the events that led to the moon landing. Thankfully, writer Josh Singer  —and James R. Hansen too I guess, since the film is based on the biography he wrote— decided to focus more on the personal life of Neil Armstrong, a life filled with loss, grief, sorrow and fragility.

It is clear right from the beginning that First Man is going to be a character study, and it is an excellent one. The film is a portrait of a quiet, introverted man who distanced, isolated himself from everything, specifically from his feelings and his family, after the loss of his daughter. The man history remembers as a stoic, unfriendly astronaut is actually a man haunted by death who sees in his mission, landing on the moon, his only chance at finding peace —as opposed to the USA whose goal was to beat the Soviets.

Ryan Gosling delivers an excellent performance as Armstrong, as he captures both the dedication and passion of the astronaut and the coldness and detachment of the man. We can see he’s suffering and in pain, and that he is hiding all that behind his stoic manner, and Gosling doesn’t even need to say a word to convey Armstrong’s feelings and vulnerabilities, his subtle facial movements are more than capable to do that.

The supporting characters, on the other hand, are pretty shallow. Armstrong’s wife, Janet, comes across as an icy woman who is always on the verge of exhaustion —Claire Foy does a great job though considering the little she’s given—, and Buzz Aldrin looks like a selfish and annoying jerk —it sure doesn’t help that Corey Stoll plays him as I find him very unsympathetic.

Universal Pictures
Visually, First Man is absolutely stunning. Most of the film is shot with a hand-held camera and it works beautifully as the film is told from Neil's perspective and this technique, which would be annoying as hell in most movies, really puts us in his seat and makes us feel his emotions. Also, cinematographer Linus Sandgren did a wonderful job in recreating an authentic 1960s look and vibe. 

The sound effects and the lack of them do a wonderful job at highlighting the tension and suspense, and the score, once again from Justin Hurwitz, carries the emotional intensity of the film —it fits incredibly well the melancholic tone— and conveys a wonderful sense of beauty, especially in the space scenes. 

Ultimately, First Man is one of those movies —a biopic, in this case— where you know what is going to happen and yet you still find yourself on the edge of the seat until the very satisfying climaxes are reached. An intense, powerful movie that often brought tears to my eyes.


  1. Replies
    1. I read so many negative reviews, I was afraid I'd hate it. But Damien did not disappoint :D

  2. Yes! I'm glad you enjoyed this. If it wasn't for Chazelle at the helm and Gosling as the star I would have happily never seen this movie but I'm so glad I gave it a go. Glad you enjoyed it too!

  3. Nice review! And happy you got a lot out of it. I was super excited about this one, but I had a tough time connecting with it. I knew it was going to be a character study, and usually enjoy those films, but the story felt a little too cold/distant for me.

    1. I'm sorry it didn't work for you as much as you hoped. I don't know what it is, but Chazelle always finds a way to my heart.