First Man creates moments of sublime beauty, both visual and aural


Neil Armstrong was not the first parent to lose a child in infancy, but that tragic fact underscores much of what takes place in First Man, director Damien Chazelle’s look back almost 50 years at the events leading up to the first moon landing.

Following up on his collaboration with Chazelle in 2016’s La La Land, Ryan Gosling perfectly embodies the taciturn engineer/test pilot that was Armstrong. He could be funny, loving and in his own way emotional, but his default mode was introversion.

So while it may not be fair to Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) to have him make a callous remark about the death of another astronaut and then defend himself by adding: “I’m just saying what you’re thinking,” it is pure Armstrong when Gosling replies: “Maybe you shouldn’t.”

Gosling, Claire Foy.

In many ways, the two hours and 20 minutes of First Man skips from catastrophe to near-catastrophe on its way to the ultimate triumph of the moon landing. (Though even that is coloured by Armstrong’s recollection of his deceased daughter, in a moment that pushes the envelope of artistic license but hits an emotionally resonant note.)

The film opens on a test flight of the rocket-powered X-15 aircraft in which Armstrong narrowly missed hitting some trees on landing. We witness the funeral of his daughter; a near-disaster on his first space flight aboard Gemini 8; the Apollo 1 fire that killed three astronauts; and a crash-landing of the lunar landing research vehicle from which Armstrong ejected with less than a second to spare. “We need to fail down here so we don’t fail up there,” he tells a flustered NASA director (Ciarán Hinds). We even hear, on the eve of the landing, a portion of a presidential speech, never delivered, titled In the Event of Moon Disaster.

This may sound like something of a downer, and it’s also worth noting that the score, by Justin Hurwitz (another La La Land alum), tends toward sobriety when it’s not lapsing into total silence. (Compare his low-key music with the jolly bombast that was James Horner’s score for Apollo 13, a story about an accident that almost claimed the lives of three moon-bound astronauts.)

But Chazelle more than compensates with moments of sublime beauty, both earthbound and in space. Flying in the face of cinematographic conventions, he shoots much of the X-15 footage and all of the Gemini 8 launch from within the craft, so we …read more

Source:: Nationalpost


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