animaldoctor’s review published on Letterboxd:
I typed an entire review for this film on my phone and it actually seemed like it turned out really well. However, I must have accidentally tapped the wrong button or something because once I was finished and as I was going through it to proofread everything (you know, make sure Autocorrect didn't screw something up for me), the review suddenly closed and I lost the entire thing. Once again, same review, written slightly differently, this time on my computer where I can control everything better. Let's try this again.
I've wanted to watch this movie for a while, and since the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission just came and went, I wanted to celebrate somehow. I know, I'm late to the party, but hey, better late than never, right? Especially for a momentous occasion like this one. Now that I've seen it, I would definitely say that I recommend First Man to everyone but that I also had some problems with the overall storytelling. Let's talk about it.
Easily the best aspect of this entire film was the visual effects, particularly the scenes shot in space or in the air. The effects are astoundingly realistic, the camerawork and cinematography makes you feel like you're stuck in the aircraft or spacecraft with these men flying through the air and shaking around, and the set on the moon is absolutely amazing looking. The visual aspect of this film is unprecedented and possibly groundbreaking, and I am amazed by how great this film looks. My personal favorite scene of this movie is when Armstrong is forced to eject himself from a crashing aircraft. The way it's helmed makes you feel like you're being forcefully ejected with him and watching this aircraft explode just below you. It's incredibly well done. Along with that, this film also somehow manages to take real footage from the event and alter it and integrate in into the film so well that it looks just like footage shot for this movie. Seriously, when I pointed out a transition from a widescreen aspect ratio to a full screen aspect ratio to my parents and my mom said the transition shot of the moon was real footage, I didn't believe her. Now, after hearing that, I wouldn't be surprised if she was right. There's a shot of a rocket blasting off that is so well incorporated into this film that if I hadn't looked it up and found out that scene was real, I wouldn't have even realized it. The integration of the footage is incredible, and the visual aspect on its own absolutely deserved an Academy Award.
As amazing as the space sequences in this film are, I really didn't feel as connected with the dramatic sequences as I personally felt I should have been. The acting is authentic enough, but I personally didn't feel that engaged by most of the performances. The subplot involving Armstrong and his daughter is incredibly moving, and the resolution of that subplot on the moon is heartwarming and heartbreaking. There's also a really well-acted sequence where Armstrong breaks down crying to himself in private that I thought was incredibly well-acted. However, I just didn't find myself engaged in most of the other performances. In fact, Claire Foy's performance and character was the only aspect of the drama in this film that I felt grounded the drama around her. Her acting is both authentic and engaging and is easily the best performance of this entire film, and her character helps connect the dots of the importance of all of the drama going on around her. I'm not saying that the actors were bad or anything, because they weren't, but nothing about their performances drew me in. Subtle performances have the capability to do that, and apparently Neil Armstrong's stoic portrayal was incredibly accurate, but to me, it just felt like Gosling was playing him so stoic that he just became wooden for most of the film. I don't know, that might just be me (heck, a lot of people disagreed with Chris Stuckmann on this film despite the fact that I mostly agree with him overall), and if you personally loved the drama and performances of this film, I completely understand that, I just personally didn't feel that drawn in by any of the performances except Foy's.
Despite the fact that the dramatic aspect of this film falters for me, the visual effects alone, combined with Justin Horowitz's incredible score, is enough for me to say without a doubt that this film is worth recommending. However, I must add this, and I have no idea how controversial this is going to be: a film that I think has a similar directorial style to this film is Jackie. To me, Jackie has much more compelling drama and performances, and I just don't feel like I will ever have the urge to see First Man again. Maybe if I saw it again, I would respect it more. That could totally be the case. However, right now, I'm just not sure I'll ever have the interest to go back and re-watch this film because I just wasn't sucked in by the performances. However, the special effects are groundbreaking enough for me to say that this film might be revolutionary in visual filmmaking, and that's enough for me to say that this film is definitely worth checking out.
Letter Grade: B+