First Man reviews: What do critics have to say about First Man?

October 10, 2018
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First Man is the story of a man who goes to extraordinary lengths not to have to talk about, think about, or deal with his feelings.

Gossling’s introverted, stoic Neil Armstrong is both powerful and empathetic, and his unflappable dedication to his job and the success of the voyage to the moon is admirable.

First Man’s greatest triumph is the unsteadiness and anxiety it produces as you watch: the shaking camera during the launch is to be expected, but the home-movie style cinematography of Armstong’s personal life makes it feel as unstable as the rocket he sits in.

But in practicality, in the IMAX theatre, the constant jerking of the camera made some moments almost unwatchable, though the final moon landing moment achieved its desired result in taking one’s breath away.

And yet First Man never quite lets you in close enough, and you always feel like you’re watching a home movie years after the events have passed -though this should make the movie feel intimate, it feels inconsequential instead.

For all its focus on going to the moon, it was hard to understand what actually propelled them there. The science was never explained, despite Kyle Chandler’s black-board instruction featured in First Man’s trailer.

Armstrong and his fellows’ perseverance is the backbone of the movie – their dedication to a mission that swallows up their friends in fireballs, and Gossling’s performance is undeniably profound.

The stand-out moment of the film came from Ciarán Hinds as he prepares for what could be a failed mission, and Claire Foy excels as Janet – bringing energy into what could have been simply a foil for Neil.

First Man

First Man: Gossling’s performance isn’t enough to lift the movie from its plodding pace (Image: UP)

Most of First Man’s cast, save for the aforementioned few, were a mass of middle-aged white men – and all historical accuracies aside, their identities were hard to tell apart despite how meaningful their lives were meant to be to Armstrong (and thus, to the audience).

First Man would have you believe Armstrong reached the moon on sheer stoic willpower alone, with a sprinkling of science thrown in for good measure, which made the endless test flights feel redundant, clogging what should have been a dramatic fight against gravity.

What do critics have to say about First Man?

Hedging her bets is Stephanie Zacharek of Time Magazine, whose review is aptly titled: First Man doesn’t quite live up to Ryan Gosling’s thoughtful Neil Armstrong performance.

“This is a respectful movie, even a genuflecting one; there’s never a moment when Chazelle fails to let you know he’s doing important, valuable work,” she wrote.

Claire Foy in First Man

Claire Foy in First Man: As Janet Armstrong, Foy brings electricity to what could have been a dud (Image: UP)

“But that’s the problem: The movie feels too fussed-over for such a low-key hero.”

Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post summed it up as: “It gets the job done, with professionalism, immersive authenticity and unadorned feeling, of which Armstrong himself might just have approved, however apprehensively.”

US Weekly’s Maria Reinstein was wholly captivated, and said: “It’s a special film that keeps you white-knuckled about the outcome of one of the most well-documented days in human history.”

Katie Walsh of Nerdist praised the director, writing: “In making the story intimate, closely-focused, and human-oriented, Chazelle reminds us in First Man just what an amazing accomplishment walking on the moon was.

First Man

First Man: The stakes never quite feel high enough despite knowing how high they were (Image: UP)

The slew of reviews come in at 4/4 and 4/5 stars.

Film Inquiry reported from the Toronto International Film Festival, where First Man was also screened in IMAX.

For FI, Tomas Trussow wrote: “Unfortunately, there are not enough moments like this to make me sing the film’s praises.

“As competent and proficient as it is, it’s not a work that gets you excited.”

The more measured responses are hard to find amidst the swelling awe for Chazelle and Gossling, and the movie is likely to head into Oscar season with confidence.

First Man is out in cinemas on October 12, 2018.



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