Review: First Man, 2018

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Director: Damien Chazelle
Writers: Josh Singer, James R. Hansen
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke

“Guidance is internal.”

A very intimate portrayal of a man with intimacy issues. Armstrong, as depicted here, is an almost entirely internal man. There may be something to be said for the title of this film suggesting that he is the prototypical American man. There seemed to be an unspoken belief on the part of Kyle Chandler’s character that Armstrong was the perfect man for this job precisely because he was a man of few words. He may not have the perfect answer for a board reviewing a flight, or the press asking how he felt about his missions, but he had a presence that instilled confidence.

However First Man does not necessarily depict this trait as one to be valued—the characteristics that made Armstrong perfect for this job also made him a difficult father and husband, who simply could not confront the consequences of choices. I was fascinated by the duality Chazelle found in such a singular man, and his choice to explore it as wordlessly as the man himself. So much of what I got out of this movie was through facial expressions and minor interactions between characters.

All in all it ends up feeling a bit like a standard biopic, but I think there’s some thematic resonance here, especially as it regards American men and their inability to express emotion, that elevates it a bit. It uses Armstrong’s story to dig into a major cultural problem, though only comes to conclusions about the man himself. This is one of the things I like about Chazelle’s movies—they always come around to being extremely personal in the end. He pulls off an emotional gut punch like no other right now. And really gets fantastic performances out of his cast—Claire Foy is astounding here especially. And man was it weird seeing a bunch of actors I grew up with being adult men training for the NASA program here. It’s weird how movies will unintentionally make me feel old now.

Score: ★★★☆☆

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