Movie Review: First Man is almost worth the wonder

First Man
Movie Review: First Man is almost worth the wonder
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About the Author

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins is a thespian and performer who has worked with theatre, film, and TV across Ontario. He comes from Campbellton, NB, and has lived in North Oakville over 20 years. He is a graduate of Journalism from Sheridan College. Twitter: @MrTyCollins

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Despite its clean and catchy title, First Man is empty of any true firsts. Most of it follows the same order and types of scenes that distinguish dramas aspiring to win bucket-loads of Oscars. Thankfully, that’s not entirely a bad thing. Even if it’s lost in space, it’s hard not to marvel at the plethora of stars.

Many of those famous, formulaic movies are excellent for a good reason. The detailed production design, dedicated casts and raw humanism of these studio films are how the business of awards campaigns even started.

First Man could be the cinematic account of space travel like Saving Private Ryan is to the second world war. It has the same depth above an accuracy to the decade of events that marked NASA’s history in the 1960s. Beyond looking “right”, it’s authentic in capturing what it felt like to be one of these astronauts. It actually feels like you’re in outer space.

What prevents the movie from being really great is the same thing that categorizes it. Despite terrific actors and some astounding cinematography (both on Earth and in space) there’s little originality.

The film spans ten years in the life of famed American astronaut Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and working at NASA. Years of training and coldness in his family with wife Janet (Claire Foy) lead to immense pressure. It does end, obviously, with the legendary Apollo 11 mission where Armstrong becomes the first man to walk on the moon.

The worst part by far is the glacially slow pace through the 2+ hour movie. Several of the flight sequences in planes, probes and rocket ships do look cool at first. They last much too long, and all but the most dedicated cosmologists will get bored.

First Man

Photo: Universal Pictures

Director Damien Chazelle is a hot commodity, coming off two magnificent pictures Whiplash and La La Land in recent years. It is slightly disappointing to say this is just good when he’s capable of making really excellent movies. The more generic scope of First Man isn’t for lack of Chazelle’s passion, though it does feel less personal.

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Those aforementioned flight scenes are a good example. The editing here isn’t nearly as tight as his previous works, and the story feels thinner because of it. The length of the scenes destroy most of the suspense and awestruck power a trip to outer space might entail. (Most audiences knowing the story doesn’t help.)

Gosling and Foy command most of the picture and they give ruthlessly detailed performances. It’s strong enough to truly separate character from actor – you really see the Armstrongs on-screen. From the screenplay and their ferociousness when acting together, they don’t seem to be likeable people. Nor are they pleasant ones to watch on film.

Space fanatics will be in complete heaven watching the movie. Anyone who can remember the actual events of and before Apollo 11 will see this more vividly than most audiences. Those hoping this is Chazelle’s next masterwork will be moderately disappointed.

For the audiences in between, it’s a dramatic night out that’s surely going to be talked about this awards season. The movie is an expertly made film that feels just as much a work of science as it is art. Like the mission itself, First Man is meticulously detailed and exhaustingly comprehensive.

Much like space travel, the movie is a lot of hard work to watch, ending with a few moments of uncompromising beauty. Whether the journey is worth it or not depends how badly you dream of walking beside greatness.

First Man
3 out of 4 stars

PG, 2hrs 13mins. Sci-Fi History Drama Epic.
Directed by Damien Chazelle.
Starring Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Corey Stoll, Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke and Ciarán Hinds.
Now Playing at Film.Ca Cinemas, Cineplex Winston Churchill and Cineplex Oakville & VIP. Also in IMAX 3D.

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