Three…Two…One, We have lift-off. Not only did the 75th Venice Film Festival complete it’s ignition sequence but Damien Chazelle’s First Man erupted with enough thrust to get all the film journalists in Lido giddy-with-excitement – exclaiming the race for next years Best Picture had begun. You couldn’t even exit the press screening without hearing multiple voices muttering the time-old expression “well looks like Oscar season has officially commenced” as they rushed off to use the toilets.
Speaking of toilets, this is a film where your bladder will actually require some active control – the mission to the Moon is not for the faint-hearted or the weak-bladdered. For those of you who have dreamt of someday kissing the Earth’s atmosphere, Chazelle’s violently, hair-raising rollercoaster-ride to the Moon may the be the closest thing to experiencing the real thing.
First Man is the opening film of the 75th Venice Film Festival and there was a lot of anticipation building for this film. Chazelle previously opened the festival two years prior with the sun-drenched, runaway-hit La La Land. The film went on to win countless awards and was infamously prematurely announced as the Best Picture winner at the 2017 Academy Awards – when (in actuality) Moonlight was the true winner. But even in that defeat, it only seems assured that Chazelle is once again destined to head back to the Kodak Theatre in 2019 with First Man.
First Man is the dramatic biopic detailing the decades worth of work that went into putting a man on the Moon’s surface. Neil Armstrong – who uttered the immortal “that’s one small step for man” quote, is played in this film by Chazelle’s go-to-leading man; Ryan Gosling. And it’s through Armstrong’s point-of-view that the story is told.
With a very stoic and reserved performance from Gosling, we also get his emotional counterpart Janet (Claire Foy). Both Foy and Gosling are on terrific awards-buzz-form here. Foy in particular has more to do than initially expected of the typical housewife role – the pinnacle of which is fully realised in a confrontational scene with NASA’s Deke Slayton (Kyle Chandler) . There’s also a heart-wrenching sequence quite early on in the film which reveals the painful loss that the Armstrong family suffered. This is a contributing factor to Neil’s quiet temperament and enriches the families dynamic we see later before he embarks on his mission which the family knows he may not return from.
What’s truly remarkable about First Man is how it avoids becoming a purely spectacle-driven flick. Yes, this is story about a space expedition to the Moon but Chazelle smartly invests more time and focus into character development and atmosphere than exhilarating-effects.
Thats not to say when we climb into the cockpit with Armstrong the experience is not joy-inducing. Never has space travel felt more lifelike in cinema. Sure, Gravity let us silk through space with Sandra Bullock but here, as soon as we blast-off into the skies, the experience becomes a loud, frantic, vibrating storm of swirling dials, heated fusalage and undeniable terror. I didn’t know it was actually possible to feel G-Force in a cinema until I watched this film.
Plus the final closing scenes on the Moon (spoiler alert but duh!) are completely jaw-dropping. To explain in further detail would be an actual spoiler but if you are lucky enough to be able to see this film in IMAX then you owe it to yourself to see it for its full majesty. Watching Neil leave that first footprint on the dusty surface of the Moon will leave an indelible mark on you as you leave the cinema – making you feel simultaneously small yet unstoppable.
First Man is released in UK cinemas nationwide from 12th October.