Review of First Man

First Man (2018)
A trip to the mind of Neil Armstrong
18 November 2020
Warning: Spoilers
On a recent episode of the Director's Cut podcast, Damien Chazelle interviewed James Gray on the occasion of his latest film Ad Astra - more similar to First Man in form than subject. On the podcast, James Gray said the filmmaker's job is always to "capture human truth and express it in the most personal way possible." Chazelle and everyone present applauded this comment.

It is undeniable that this is appreciable in First Man, Chazelle's latest film. And although it may not seem so a priori, the "spatial biopic" is not the genre that the young director has shown to dominate, but the musical - or, at least, the music. However, if Chazelle also knows something about it, it is about getting the essence of all his characters out, making the viewer live their motivations and suffer from their disabilities as if they were their own. And precisely about that; from the inside, from the deepest point of view, this movie goes.

For this reason, the director feels comfortable transferring his style to the film: the predominance of the hand-held camera and close-ups. Linus Sandgreen, his usual cinematographer, combines the look of a biographical documentary -unstabilized camera-, while managing to extract the thoughts of Neil Armstrong through the static stares of Ryan Gosling in the foreground. Also, reflections are especially important. They not only show us what Neil sees, but also act as an explicit projection of his thinking. Examples of this are the moments in which Neil sees, for the first time, the stratosphere and when he lands on the moon and observes the void. Of course, the film also does not lack the modulated montage rhythm - typical of a musician like Chazelle - and a color palette to hang on the wall.

For all this, we say that First Man is a space genre film, but it is with a special touch and style. It is not just a biopic of Neil Armstrong, it is a journey inside an astronaut who seeks comfort on the moon, but who finds his purpose to be in his own home. It is the revelation of a historical figure who rediscovers that, before being an astronaut, he is a husband and father.

Chazelle is no longer a promising youngster. In First Man he shows us that he is capable of moving us with any story, regardless of its genre. I accept that perhaps First Man is not his film that surprises the most, but it is a turning point in a career that has already taken off
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