Audiences know Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth from Netflix’s hit show “The Crown” and soon they will know her as an Oscar contender. While many will focus on Damien Chazelle’s latest achievement (and they should) and others might comment on yet another stellar performance from Ryan Gosling, make no mistake about who the star of “First Man” indeed is.
For those who might feel that Chazelle’s latest project is in the same vein as an “Apollo XIII” or “The Right Stuff” haven’t paid close enough attention to this Oscar-winning director’s body of work. “First Man” emphasizes the emotional toll which comes from taking on what was thought to be an unthinkable quest. While the film is grounded in the details of Armstrong’s ascent to becoming commander of Apollo XI, “First Man” in some ways is more of a tale about the infancy and growing pains surrounding the space program.
Chazelle doesn’t seek to glorify one of the true pioneers of the space program. Armstrong was extremely driven, and this singular focus certainly had its ramifications at home. Instead of tackling the real pain one might have when their child dies, it seem to fuel him as if stepping foot on the moon would in some way make all of it okay. Gosling’s portrayal is perfectly nuanced between the commander’s serious tone about his work and what was unfolding at home. Most certainly his performance will lead to numerous nominations at any number of awards shows down the road.
Foy is marvelous as Janet Armstrong who at times has to be strong for the whole family. When Neil is in shock over the death Alan Shepard and buries himself in work, Janet has to pick up the slack to ensure the rest of the family doesn’t miss a beat. Rather than taking time to mourn the loss of their daughter due to a brain tumor, she’s okay moving the family to Houston allowing Neil to follow his dream. Foy shines when she refuses to take any crap from Neil or any other men working in the space program. When they cut off her listening box during a tense moment in a mission before Apollo XI, Janet marches right down to mission control and puts everyone on blast. However, her crowning moment is when she calls out Neil for avoiding the discussion with their children about the dangers of this mission. If you don’t get chills during that moment, then you must be mentally somewhere else.
It isn’t only Ms. Foy who dazzles in First Man. Director Damien Chazelle is quickly establishing himself as one of the best directors working in Hollywood with what will undoubtedly be his third film up for Best Picture. “First Man” at first glance appears to be a bit long but the pacing is brisk and the elements in the first act are necessary to understanding the rest of the film. His projects emphasize the humanity in their respective narratives. While the achievement of making to the moon and back is unquestionably one of the greatest scientific moments of our generation, it’s the people who made this event possible who are endlessly fascinating. Credit in this instance certainly belongs to Josh Singer’s deft ability to adapt these moments from James Hansen’s book about Armstrong. Mix in Justin Hurwitz’s haunting score with Linus Sandgren’s mindblowing cinematography and the result is a movie that certainly will be on everybody’s top ten list for 2018. “First Man” is easily a four and a half star film that promises to be a significant player around Awards season.