First Man is the opening film of the 75th Venice Film Festival. Damien Chazelle comes back after the huge success of La La Land and Whiplash, and this time he completely changes his style: gone are fictional, highly-stylized musical tales; now he tells the tale of Neil Armstrong, the first man who landed on the moon.
Expectations for the film were cautiously low: this is a very different project from Chazelle, one that he has not penned, and biopic usually end up being middle-of-the-road pictures. Sadly, my expectations were met, for First Man left me and plenty other people around me rather cold as soon as the credits started rolling.
This is far from saying that First Man is a bad film: it is just very average, your standard biopic that lacks any sort of risks or style, without a voice of its own. The cinematography during the land scenes (which take up the majority of the film) is pretty okay, almost entirely handheld; the two scenes shot inside the cockpits during Armstrong’s main voyages in space are quite gorgeous, shooting everything from the point of view of Gosling’s character, making for claustrophobic and nail-bitingly tense scenes. The effects are also quite seemless, with great use of models, sets, and CGI to recreate space and the lunar surface.
The cast is quite competent in their roles, with the standouts being Gosling and especially Foy. The former delivers a quiet yet effective performance as a man who is heartbroken after the death of his daughter, ready to take risks for the sake of science and almost as a way of killing himself. Foy is quite great (albeit slightly underused) as Armstrong’s wife, and she is the only emotional core of a film that needed more emphasis on emotions rather than treading the same paths that every biopic takes. Among the side cast there are the always-reliable Ciaran Hinds, Kyle Chandler, and Jason Clarke, the latter especially being able to show more range than usual.
Overall, First Man is a competently made biopic, one that is technically good, yet lacks the heart, emotion, and drive of Chazelle’s other films.