First Man (2018)
written by Josh Singer
based on the biography First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen
directed by Damien Chazelle
After writing and directing Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (2009), Whiplash (2014), and La La Land (2016) – three movies with a focus on music, both in theme and form – filmmaker Damien Chazelle took the helm of this adaptation of the official biography of astronaut Neil Armstrong. It’s a pretty odd pairing.
As he’s demonstrated before, Chazelle excels at combining image and sound to create rhythm; he captures the tension inherent in piloting rocket planes and landing Lunar Modules, all claustrophobia and dissonance, with ease. But he falls short in dramatizing the emotional distance of a man obsessed with his mission. The film relies heavily on the death of Armstrong’s young daughter Karen as the catalyst for his relentless drive, and as played by Ryan Gosling as if he’d just wandered off the set of Blade Runner 2049, it’s hard to discern whether he’s feeling excitement, fear, or sorrow at any given moment. Despite a couple of thrilling moments, First Man just fails to launch.
Carlos I. Cuevas