More noise than signal

First Man

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Ryan Gosling suits up in Damien Chazelle’s look at Neil Armstrong’s path to the moon, that’s part biopic and part history of NASA.

To be almost dismissively reductive, that elevator pitch is perhaps all you need to know about the movie. It was certainly enough to sell me on it. If you need a little more detail, and it always seems a little daft us trying to recap the historical record as though Wikipedia wasn’t a thing, it’s starting with Armstrong’s days as a NASA test pilot, through the early days of the Apollo program, and into the Gemini program, as the Americans race to beat the Russians to the moon with perhaps humanity’s greatest technological drive.

This doesn’t focus completely on the technology, though, most of it’s about the human impact of the program, and the setbacks on the way, and how that affects Armstrong, who’s already suffered the loss of his daughter to cancer. Of course, men in this era don’t do emotion, so it’s a typically restrained performance from Gosling. In many ways that makes this the exact inverse of full Nic Cage.

He gives a really excellent performance, subtle, nuanced, yet giving great insight into his character without reams of clunky exposition. He’s aided by a highly talented cast to play off, particularly Claire Foy as Janet Armstrong, and there’s also a list of great character actors in smaller roles that fill the film out very nicely indeed like Ciaran Hinds, Jason Clarke, Corey Stoll, and Kyle Chandler.

The distressingly young and talented Chazelle wrangles all this nicely, alongside the special effects, rocket based side of things that look solid and authentic, and it’s all exceedingly plauditable. If you want to be critical, which I suppose is the point of this podcast, you could argue according to your particular tastes that it’s not deep enough on the technology, or on Neil’s character, but to my mind it’s a pretty good mix of both. I’d perhaps prefer if this could have restrained itself to two hours, but I’m not immediately sure what you’d cut without compromising the timeline. Which is why I don’t edit films for a living, I suppose.

I really enjoyed First Man although gratifyingly for you, dear listener, I don’t have all that much else to say about it. It’s an exceedingly polished and heartfelt film that’s compelling without artificially inflating the drama of the real life event of the most remarkable and laudable scientific and engineering programs the US of A, or the world, has undertaken. A mind-boggling achievement, and this film is a worthy monument to that.