Damien Chazelle and Ryan Gosling came back with something altogether different to La La Land. It’s remarkable in its restraint, occasionally verging on dull, but its tone matches that dialled-in cool-headed character most astronauts seem to have.
The visuals are outstanding here, both in cinematography but also in set design. The real nuts and bolts of 60s spacecraft are exposed for all to see without Hollywood polish—it’s barely hanging together. When the Gemini 8 hatch opens and Armstrong’s tiny seat awaits it looks like a total death trap (it nearly was). It’s closer to a rusty old boat rather than something that is made to go to space, but he just gets in and gets on with it. I dread to think what the Russians were dealing with.
To his credit, Chazelle knows that we know the ending so chooses not to dwell on it for too long. This, the photography plus the wonderful soundtrack are enough to sustain First Man’s running time, but any more shots of Gosling and Claire Foy staring sadly at each other and I’d be checking my watch.
Probably not a masterpiece for the ages, but some masterful scenes make First Man an outstanding piece of work nevertheless.