First Man Review - Out of This World

Projected Film: First Man Review - Out of This World

Runtime: 141mins | Director: Damien Chazelle | Rating: 5 Stars

Oh, Damien Chazelle… will you ever make a film that I don’t love? Probably not.

For those of you who don’t know, Whiplash is my favourite film. Ever. As far as I’m concerned, it is a masterpiece. Then, he directed La La Land, the infamously near-winner of the 2017 Oscars – another brilliant film.

But, rather than making me feel comfortable in his apparently safe hands, this just made me more nervous… “Can he really pull off a hat trick? Surely not…”

Well, I’m here to tell you that he did - First Man is a superb film and one you should go and see immediately.

First Man tells the story of Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) – no introductions needed – an engineer who sky-rocketed his career through NASA to become the first man to walk on the moon. But, of course, such a dangerous mission wasn’t smooth sailing…

And this is where First Man is truly stellar – building tension.

Projected Film: First Man Review - Out of This World

As shown in his directorial debut, Whiplash, Damien Chazelle is a master of suspense, and he truly shows this in First Man. From the opening scene, Chazelle is determined to use point of view shots throughout the film. This ensures you feel as if you are in the cockpit with Armstrong across his various missions to space – most of which go wrong. Unlike the usual wide-angle shots, this makes the film feel very claustrophobic, which only heightens with each increasingly important mission.

And this sense of tension and foreboding only grows due to the impressive use of sound. Whether it’s the screeching wind, howling on the outside of the cockpit as they exit the Earth’s atmosphere or the wild shaking of the metal which makes you all too aware of the fragility of their ship, Chazelle has you on the edge of your seat throughout.

In fact, there were times where I was genuinely scared. Why? Well, as I’ve said before, and I’ll say again – the scariest films are the ones which rely on the unknown. The most terrifying monsters are always the ones you see the least of. And what could be scarier or more unknown than space? First Man forces you to appreciate our ignorance of the universe and the incredible danger astronauts faced to get there for the first time.

Projected Film: First Man Review - Out of This World

But, First Man doesn’t rely solely on the use of tension – a trap that would have been easy to fall into. Instead, there are also scenes with genuine emotion and weight. And how couldn’t there be when Armstrong had such a troubled past?

It’s a testament to Chazelle’s directing ability that he doesn’t milk these scenes of heightened emotion. Given the subject matter, it would have been all too easy to have sweeping strings playing, baiting people for their sympathy. Instead, like Armstrong himself, they’re dealt with in an understated, yet caring manner which doesn’t sacrifice any significance.

Now, it’s also important to state that First Man isn’t a film about the moon landing – it’s a character piece about Neil Armstrong.

Having read the criticisms, predominantly spewing out of America, that it ‘isn’t patriotic enough’ – that’s why. First Man isn’t a propaganda piece about how brilliant America or its space programme is. In fact, albeit briefly, some of the most interesting scenes in the film are a montage which depict the political backlash against NASA and the space programme.

Rather than spending money on developing predominantly black, inner-city areas, money was spent on going to the moon in a competition of egos with the Soviet Union. And this, contrasted against Armstrong’s personal investment in getting to the moon as an act of desperation and escapism, is utterly compelling.

Projected Film: First Man Review - Out of This World

First Man excels beyond its narrative though – the cinematography, in particular, is exceptional.

Deftly switching from juddering POV shots which place you behind Armstrong’s visor, forcing you to share his grief, anxiety, and determination, and panoramic shots of his family life and the moon respectively, it’s a joy to watch.

For a majority of the film, cinematographer, Linus Sandgren, shoots using 16mm which provides the film with a beautiful and gritty 60’s hue. Discussing the filming of First Man, Linus said: “We tested IMAX and 35mm inside the craft, but 16mm was more real and raw...beautiful. It felt much more authentic. First Man is sloppy in the way that it’s meant to look like a documentary in the grain and focus until we get to the moon.” (To read the full interview, click here).

Projected Film: First Man Review - Out of This World

Without a doubt, First Man is another success for Damien Chazelle. Providing a beautiful yet nail-bitingly tense depiction of Neil Armstrong’s life and his iconic first steps on the moon, it’s not a film to be missed. I was fortunate enough to see First Man at the IMAX, and if you get the chance, I would recommend seeing it there too. The larger screen and immersive sound make a huge, huge difference. You won’t regret it.

To watch the trailer – click here!

To Pre-Order First Man on Blu-Ray, DVD or 4K – click here!

To read the novel which inspired First Manclick here!


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