First Man


Having cemented his status as Hollywood’s preeminent wunderkind with the one-two punch of drummer psychodrama Whiplash and throwback musical La La Land, Damien Chazelle turns to big-budget studio fare with First Man, a lavish biopic of American icon Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling). Dramatising Armstrong’s journey from precocious test pilot to trailblazing moonwalker, the film fully delivers as a sensory experience. The action set pieces are masterly – cinematographer Linus Sandgren juxtaposes claustrophobic shuttle interiors with the vastness of space, while Justin Hurwitz’s swirling orchestral score heightens the sense of grandeur. It’s back on earth that Chazelle falters. Like his previous films, First Man is a portrait of an ambitious young man excelling professionally at the expense of a happy personal life. But with the famously taciturn Armstrong as his subject, and Gosling hewing close to reality with a blank-faced performance, the director struggles to render the human drama compelling. As Janet Armstrong, Claire Foy attempts to compensate for her husband’s surliness with a more emotional performance, but the role is sorely underwritten. The overall package is equal parts enchanting and exasperating.

First Man | Directed by Damien Chazelle (US 2018) with Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy. Starts November 8.

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