Before I go in deep with this review, I want to be as transparent as possible. I don’t think I can’t continue going forward with not disclosing this information to any potential readers. What I’m gonna say may cause some controversy and downright shock some people. But, for the sake of “journalistic” integrity, I’m just gonna say it. I have never seen La La Land. I can already see the flames in your eyes and the crushing of your heart. I know, how could I never see one of the most popular films of the past couple years? How could you not see La La Land, but put First Man in your most anticipated movie of 2018? Well, to put it in laments terms, I have never liked nor do I think I ever will like a musical. West Side Story? Hard pass. Grease? More like Please, no for the love of God. Chicago? Not a chance in hell. I understand that La La Land is more of a ode to Hollywood and the film making industry, but I know that that style is not a film inside of my wheelhouse. A movie that is so deep in my wheelhouse is the 2014 film Whiplash, the first big movie that was directed by Damien Chazelle, and let me tell you, that movie was what we call in the business as a “fantastic film”. And even though I never saw it, hearing the buzz around the performance from him and the legend Ryan “the GosGod” Gosling, I was pumped to see First Man.
If your not a movie person and/or live in a cave and have no idea what this movie is, First Man is based on the book which is set around Neil Armstrong and his personal life leading up to the events of Apollo 11, the first successful space mission to the Moon. I can personally say that I never knew much about the man who was one of the first people to step foot on the Moon, and I do think this film sheds some light on him to a degree. Throughout the movie Armstrong is portrayed as someone who is a genius in engineering, but reserved and non-emotional when interacting with others. I’m not sure if that is based on his actual personality, or if Chazelle/Gosling wanted to go with this direction. For the most part for me, it doesn’t add much depth and dramatic effect for a movie that was hyped to be in the running for a Best Picture award at the Oscars, and that is a big thumbs down in my book. I never have a moment where I felt any type of emotion in this character, or his interactions with his wife (played by Claire Foy) and his crew members (a wide cast but most standouts include Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, and Corey Stoll). Maybe this is a reaction from when his young daughter passes away from a brain tumor, which is one of the first portions seen in this film. I’m sure that losing a child changes you internally and changes who you are, but I don’t know if that is the main reason.
From a technical and directorial point of view, this film might be in the flawless category. The use of 16 and 35mm film really stands out to me as a film nerd. Basically, using the 16mm gauge gives movies a vintage and low budget aesthetic to the image, while 35mm is the common gauge in making movies. You can definitely tell when watching First Man certain scenes looking almost like its in real time for the period when it takes place (late 1960’s). On top of that the usage of using CGI as well as real sets and practical effects is incredible. I’m a huge fan of the usage of practical effects, mainly because of George Lucas ruining my childhood with the heavy CGI in the Star Wars prequels, so knowing things like the actual moon landing scene was actually shot at an abandoned rock quarry, which with production assets makes it actually look like the moon landing. They also used IMAX 70mm film to capture the actual moon landing, giving it that big moment feel for the end of the film. Plus all the shots of the planes and spacecraft flown throughout the movie, I was blown away in the end how how good everything looked. This is probably the film that really cements Damien Chazelle as one of the best new filmmakers of this generation, and hopefully we get more incredible projects from him. I wouldn’t be surprised if his name in considered for Best Director, he definitely directed one hell of a movie.
The one thing that bothers me about First Man isn’t something that is flawed with the movie, but the controversy that surrounds the movie from a political standpoint. I hate the fact that we need to complain about the flag being planted in the surface or the issues with 1960s America at that time are a little outrageous to me. Don’t get me wrong, this movie is very pro-USA and hammers home the importance of this space mission and what it meant to the country in a lot of ways. However, I don’t think the flag being planted in the moon should be a bigger deal than it is. Sure, it’s an iconic moment in the history of this country, but the movie isn’t about NASA or the government getting to the moon. First Man is a biopic of Neil Armstrong, so therefore it shows his life and getting to the moon. Maybe this wasn’t a big deal to him as people are making it out to be, or Chazelle was looking for the symbolic moments of his life and not American history. I can’t speculate in all honesty. Also, yes this country in the 1960s was not a nice place, any history book can tell you that, but a movie about someone’s life and journey to one of the biggest moments in time doesn’t really call for observations of the social issues of America as a whole. Again, just my opinion, take it or leave it. I’m here to enjoy the art of filmmaking.
All in all, this is a great movie and should be seen while it is in theaters. It’s a real shame that this movie is preforming so low at the box office. Currently, First Man sits at $17 million in the US box office, which is incredibly low in my opinion. If the “controversy” around the film is a reason, that really is tough to see. I’m sure the competition of Venom and A Star is Born does not help it’s case. Next weekend is gonna be a rough one too as the highly anticipated film Mid90’s (the directorial debut of the Fit God Jonah Hill) and the reboot of Halloween. Both of these films are definitely gonna top the box office, which really makes me think this could be one of those great films no one sees in theaters, but maybe has a huge streaming/online buy rate. Come Oscar time, expect to see First Man appear in a lot of categories, and probably take some hardware home.
Score: Please see this movie I beg you.