First Man ★★★★½

I'm not sure what possessed Chazelle to wrap on La La Land and then decide to embark upon a project like First Man, but in some ways I can see the logic. Either way I expected big setpieces, warm and tender moments, and a banging opener - and First Man delivers.

Coming from a lifetime spent re-watching Apollo 13 with all of its technical accuracy, I sincerely hoped First Man would score well on that front and by all accounts it does. In some ways I think I expected more nerdy detail, but this is a tale about a man, rather than necessarily a film about Apollo 11. Some technical elements and procedures were glossed over somewhat, but the attention to detail was always there in the background.

The opening sequence was as chair-clenchingly tense as I'd hoped - and a real big-screen and big-sound experience. Elsewhere, the intimacy and tenderness with which the characters were portrayed is a beautiful achievement. At times heartbreakingly sad, the film portrays several arcs all interplaying from the vastness of the Cold War-era space program to the feel of a few delicate strands of hair played in one's fingers.

The gritty, grainy sequences of sheer action which cunningly portray so much by showing so little are helped by terrifying sound design and careful shot choices; a handful of these are perhaps slightly overlong, but are mostly well-placed.

And the sound is great everywhere, along with a soundtrack that almost has too many ideas in its head but that somehow works.

This wasn't quite the film I expected, and I think it was probably even better because of it.