Matt Dekonty
Student Writer

Reach for the Stars

After carving out quite the name for himself through both Whiplash and La La Land, director Damien Chazelle has decided to go in a completely different direction for his latest work. The Neil Armstrong biopic First Man shows a largely unknown side of Armstrong, as well as the relationships with both his family and other astronauts, including the strain put on them by the increasingly daunting mission.

A Look to the Past

The visual style of First Man harkens back heavily to Terrance Malick’s The Tree of Life, with a grainy, polaroid-esque aesthetic and handheld camera movements that make it feel more like pseudo-documentary home video footage as opposed to a scripted drama. This brings out an impressive layer of authenticity that is largely vacant from the vast majority of similar biopics. More often than not, the filmmakers had enough confidence in the events themselves to carry the drama as opposed to feeling the need to overstuff the runtime with artificial stakes or a bending of what really happened.

Gosling plays Armstrong with a very understated and quiet performance; he speaks to his own children during what should be an emotional moment like he’s giving a half-hearted press conference and continuously pushes off confronting the potential dangers that destroyed so many of those around him.

Man on the Moon

With a runtime of nearly two and a half hours, it’s a while before we end up at our final destination. From the very beginning, we’re treated to a number of trial runs and other types of failed experiments that lead to the Apollo 11 mission. The events lend themselves to a number of extremely striking visuals, such as the sky glowing red following the initial launch of the Apollo, to a distraught Armstrong gazing upon the flaming wreckage of a failed lunar lander prototype.

Conclusion

First Man is a slow burn, with an occasional emotional peek behind the curtains of a man whose legacy was often lost on a singular piece of his life. While it lacks the consistent excitement of something such as Gravity or The Martian, those interested in learning more about the life of Armstrong should be sufficiently satisfied by its less conventional approach and beautiful visuals.

Photo retrieved from theatlantic.com.

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