Damien Chazelle’s First Man has landed at Venice to rave reviews. It’s hard to believe that there’s not been a biopic of Neil Armstrong until now, but at last here it is. First Man is Chazelle’s follow up to La La Land.
The reviews are in.
David Rooney at The Hollywood Reporter says, “That this sober, contemplative picture has emotional involvement, visceral tension, and yes, even suspense, in addition to stunning technical craft.” Rooney goes on to say, “This is a strikingly intelligent treatment of a defining moment for America that broadens the tonal range of Chazelle, clearly a versatile talent, after Whiplash and La La Land. What’s perhaps most notable is the film’s refusal to engage in the expected jingoistic self-celebration that such a milestone would seem to demand. At a time when the toxic political climate has cheapened that kind of nationalistic fervor, turning it into empty rhetoric, the measured qualities of Josh Singer’s screenplay, based on James R. Hansen’s 2005 biography of Armstrong, are to be savored.”
First Man reteams Chazelle with most of his La La Land creatives and Rooney says, “The tendency to favor focused understatement over showiness carries through into the period work of production designer Nathan Crowley and costumer Mary Zophres. And the quiet majesty of the drama owes much to the infinite moods of Justin Hurwitz’s masterful score, from tender, melodic passages through echoes (intended?) of vintage Jerry Goldsmith to a rare burst of full-thrust power when the lunar surface is first glimpsed up close. The archival version of that visual is embedded in countless memories, as Armstrong’s footprint marks the first human contact with the Moon’s powdery surface. The magic of Chazelle’s fine film is that it allows us to share directly in that momentous discovery.”
The Film Stage’s Leonardo Goi says, “First Man echoes a Lubezki-like aesthetic, the camera effortlessly flowing with Gosling as he plays around with the kids and whispers into his daughter’s ears. Some images recall The Tree of Life, but their gentle beauty is brutally juxtaposed with the terrifyingly claustrophobic camerawork inside various spacecrafts, in a game of point-of-view and outstanding sound design that — in line with the film’s sanitized and anti-bombastic flair — portrays them less as technological wonders, more like howling metallic graves. First Man would be impressive even without the palpable fear that emanates from Gosling’s haunting breathing, the space helmet fogging up the camera’s lens, but it is that immersive experience that puts it over the top. The look on Gosling’s eyes as the moon materializes on the horizon, the lunar surface suddenly reflected on his helmet, captures the film’s magnetic dancing between tragedy and wonder. Nobody has taken us to space this way before.”
Over at Screendaily, Fionnuala Halligan says, “La La Land’s Damien Chazelle, a director who can turn a score into a character and uses sound design in First Man to harness audiences inside a primitive spaceship, widens his horizons to tell the story of America’s great hero Neil Armstrong and his professional and personal journey to the moon. It’s a beautifully made film, with an impeccable lead performance from Ryan Gosling as the sober, sensitive astronaut. Yet it’s also a film which takes elegant flight but stalls across its extended closing sequences; a project which, in its probing of Armstrong’s emotional mechanisms, neglects the development of other characters who might have anchored it more securely.”
And Twitter reactions are raving too:
Just in from Venice: New @DSChazelle space drama FIRST MAN is a “sober, contemplative picture that has emotional involvement, visceral tension and yes, even suspense, in addition to stunning technical craft.” https://t.co/97c5P9Gfv2
First Man – An exceptionally beautiful, intimate look at how the determination and courage of men once took us farther than we have ever been before. In a word: breathtaking. Chazelle continues to astound.
Variety’s Owen Gleiberman says First Man makes Apollo 13 look like a “puppet show” writing, “Chazelle restricts the action almost entirely to the point-of-view of the astronauts themselves: the things they literally see and hear during their missions (the movie eschews panoramic shots they aren’t privy to), along with what they’re thinking and feeling. From the dizzy and volatile opening sequence, in which Armstrong, as a test pilot in 1961, rides an X-15 up into the black clouds, ripping through the air to the point that he almost can’t get back (mission control: “Neil, you’re bouncing off the atmosphere”), the movie is tethered to everything the men experience: the random shards of sky looming up out of cramped windows, the topsy-turvy angles, the whole existential inside-the-cockpit zooming-into-the-void craziness of it all. Propelled by Linus Sandgren’s raw-light cinematography and Tom Cross’s hypnotic editing, “First Man” is so immersive in its glitchy, hurtling, melting-metal authenticity that it makes a space drama like “Apollo 13” look like a puppet show.”