FIRST MAN review by Patrick Hendrickson – Ryan Gosling plays Neil Armstrong for Damien Chazelle

FIRST MAN review by Patrick Hendrickson – Ryan Gosling plays Neil Armstrong for Damien Chazelle

FIRST MAN is a dramatic retelling of Neil Armstrong’s early efforts in the space program as well as a peek into this legendary figure’s more human side. The movie traces Armstrong’s flightpath from early aerial missions to the grand finale of the Apollo 11 mission where he and Buzz Aldrin became the first human beings to set foot on the moon. Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of Neil Armstrong is a muted and reserved one that matches well with the general tone of the production at large. The brief moments of passion we see from his performance usually come as a result of his work. Corey Stoll plays Buzz Aldrin, who feels noticeably absent for a majority of the movie, which is unfortunate considering his performance is significantly more energetic. The film leaves Aldrin’s participation in The Space Program noticeably underexposed, which is a disservice to his groundbreaking work.

There are multiple scenes scattered throughout the movie which portray Armstrong’s participation in various NASA missions, including the Apollo 13 mission as well as missions from Armstrong’s piloting days before NASA. These are very loud scenes set in very cramped spaces that truly give the feeling of claustrophobia that would likely accompany being stuffed into such a tiny space. These scenes are also by far the highlights of FIRST MAN. There are brief flashes of life during any of these missions that are portrayed, but there are only three or so scenes like this. These segments almost seem to bookend and bookmark the movie which is an effective framing device, but the problem is that everything in between is so lax that it becomes difficult to stay invested. I cannot speak for how Neil Armstrong carried himself or how accurately Gosling portrays him, so I will give the actor the benefit of the doubt in that regard. However, his performance is simply not engaging enough to lead this production. The few and relatively minor scenes involving Stoll are entertaining because Stoll’s portrayal of Aldrin is much more animated.

The biggest issue by far with FIRST MAN is its lack of energy. The movie carries itself as a very contemplative piece of art, but there is not really all that much to contemplate when you get right down to it. From the start there is a very slow build-up to the Apollo 11 and it becomes a pretty arduous viewing by the end of it. This would be fine if that particular scene was cathartic, but it just feels hollow after having sat through everything prior. It also goes by in the blink of an eye, whereas the movie was unafraid to take its time with everything before it. To be quite frank, this production can surprisingly be quite a dull experience to sit through.

FIRST MAN is not a bad movie by any means nor is it a movie unworthy of any praise. The film is just simply too slow-paced for an easy viewing. A viewer would need to be in the right state of mind to enjoy something like this due to its general lack of a pulse. The pacing issues can be a bit jarring, but the quickened storytelling toward the end is welcome if only because it brings this long march to a firm conclusion, earning the movie a 3/5.

FIRST MAN opens October 12, 2018

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