Saturday, January 26, 2019
FIRST MAN is a film I wanted to see in the theaters, but it didn't last too long in my area and I never got around to seeing it. I finally caught up with it through Xfinity OnDemand.
One of the reasons for the tepid box office of FIRST MAN may have been a social media controversy over the fact that the movie does not have a scene showing astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin putting up the American flag when they became the first human beings to step foot upon the moon. Personally, I think that made-up controversy was vastly overstated--I don't see how anyone can think this movie is anti-American.
The movie follows the progression of the American Space program in the 1960s through the experiences of Neil Armstrong. Armstrong is portrayed as a hardworking but somewhat distant person who is haunted by the loss of a young daughter to cancer. Various other tragedies ensue and Armstrong winds up commanding the Apollo 11 mission, and taking that giant leap for mankind.
FIRST MAN is a very well made film--the special effects and the recreations of the 1960s-era technology are excellent. But it didn't engage me as much as I thought it should. The movie has a very detached attitude to it, and that may be due to the fact that Ryan Gosling has a very detached acting style as Neil Armstrong. The real Armstrong certainly wasn't a showy, take the spotlight type, but in FIRST MAN he comes off as something of a mystery, even to his own family. The remoteness of Gosling's Armstrong makes it difficult to appreciate his story.
Another reason FIRST MAN didn't impress me was the shaky camera style and rapid editing--I know I'm getting on my old white guy soapbox here, but I really wish that 21st Century filmmakers would use a tripod once in a while and stay on a shot for more than a couple seconds. Director Damien Chazelle does do these things during the segment in which Armstrong walks on the moon--but instead of focusing on the grandeur of the moment he stresses the creepy desolation of the landscape.
The biggest problem with FIRST MAN is that there's no sense of triumph, or accomplishment. The movie ends with a glum-looking Armstrong being in forced quarantine isolation after returning to Earth--I'm sure this is meant, in a heavy handed way, to point out how isolated the man has always supposedly been, but it's a climax that's not very satisfying. What Armstrong and all the other people involved in NASA during the Space Race did was one of the greatest achievements in human history. It should be celebrated--especially since sadly we live in a world where people would much rather have ridiculous debates on whether the moon landing was fake instead of giving credit to those who deserve it.