BEIRUT: Though his previous two films, Oscar nominated WHIPLASH, and Oscar winner LA LA LAND, wowed audiences and critics alike, young director Damien Chazelle’s latest film misses its docking point by a long shot.
The film’s opening sequence is aggressive, captivating, and falsely sets the stage for what is to follow as the narrative disjointedly progresses and character drift in and out without much engagement from the audience.
It is strange to use such an expression when describing any film, but FIRST MAN is cold.
The leads, Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong and Claire Foy as his wife Janet, are beyond capable, well-seasoned actors who have awed in previous performances, and do so here as well.
Gosling is raw and delivers some great moments, and Foy is a powerhouse, but the narrative, in this case being the screenplay written by Josh Singer, keeps them at bay and no emotional connection ever forms.
There are moments where the pacing from event to event seem rushed, and others that seem to overstay their welcome.
This imbalance causes this disconnect and hurts some powerful beats that should by all counts bring tears to audience members’ eyes rather than leave the audience unaffected.
When one looks at the names attached to the film should, it should have success written all over it, but unfortunately, it lacks the most important element: heart.
APOLLO 13, GRAVITY, and THE MARTIAN, are three films that are memorable, powerful, and emotionally engaging, and this is due to the fact that they had heart, and that heart could be found within their protagonists.
Unfortunately, Ryan Gosling’s Neil Armstrong is pouty from the film’s first act to the film’s final act – even after he’d traveled to the moon and back, he did not seem at all changed or affected.
Although the visual cues of this change are present, Armstrong’s coldness utterly pushes the audience away and does not allow room for empathy.
Visually, the film stuns.
Chazelle presents the audience with powerful visuals regarding space travel, and utilizes the camera in a very interesting way.
Instead of relying heavily on CGI, Chazelle keeps the camera with the characters inside the crafts at all time – further on that point, there are many scenes in extremely tight spaces and this places the audience right there with the astronauts and their experience.
Experience is what seems to be Chazelle’s main priority in this film, and not the story.
By looking at the film as a whole, it is rather easy to deduce that Chazelle here, much like director Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, wanted the audience to experience the struggles, the risks, and the hardship that astronauts and their families face.
Yet the only one of those elements that is properly executed would have to the element relating to the journeys into space.
Justin Hurowitz’s score is also quite unimpressive – and quite repetitive.
With a runtime of two hours and twenty-one minutes, FIRST MAN feels more like an endless journey into space rather than a film that packs a punch.
The film is now playing across cinemas in Lebanon, including IMAX and 4DX exclusively at Vox Cinemas.
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