Joey Lubanski’s review published on Letterboxd:
“Mom, what's wrong?”
“Nothing, honey. Your dad's going to the Moon.”
What makes a biopic great is strangely not about what the person did. In a genre solely devoted to the actions of a person you’d think that would be the case. There are two things that give this particular format of movies, an important place in our theaters and on our screens.
One of those things is the answer to the question: how did this person do it? This can range from the physical to the mental hurdles the person had to overcome. What trials did the person overcome, and at what cost? A cohesive mesh of both the physical and emotional sides of this question is what makes a biopic something extraordinary.
The most important element is how the film portrays the answer to the question: why did this person do it? What motive would they have in completing such an objective, to pay the toll to reach thier goal. To achieve this element somehow the director almost has to implant this in your head without beating you over the head with it.
First Man is a extraordinary answer to both of these questions, and an important film because of this. It’s a cadence of character, an example of unflinching determination, and the thin line between achieving goals and family.
Damien Chazelle uses his signature formula of mixing two incredible lead actors into a brilliantly constructed musical element. In Whiplash we had J.K Simmons and Miles Teller with music being used as a plot device. With La La Land we see Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone using music as a direct story-telling method. And in First Man we have Ryan Gosling with his counterpart Claire Foy and music is used as a subtle (but very important) backdrop. The score here is absolutely incredible. It’s long and drawn out notes are used when necessary, but crescendos in a way that fits the era of the 1960s. Justin Hurwitz includes spacey reverbs in his score to give it a sci-fi spin. It works so well you forget that it’s there and it meshes your emotions to the scene. It is the very worthy emotional counterpart to the performances.
The suberb performances here are monumentaly due to the synergy between the actors and the director. Gosling is a master at showing incredible emotion with suddle precision. He may not use an abundance of diolouge but profoundly says a lot with body language. He uses his performance to earn the emotional scenes, and when those scenes come you can feel it. Claire Foy mirrors this method and gives the couple chemistry. She is rock hard and unrelenting while remaining warm and loving. Both performances feel real and seem to fit together incredibly well.
Damien Chazelle achieves what I believe to be his best use of cinematography. In a story that we all know the ending to, it would be hard to harvest an intense and emotional experience for the audience. But he nails it on the head. There are genuinely tense moments due to the way he went about deciding what to do with the camera. Quick repeated images, flashing lights, and camera shakes all add to the to the intense. And to drive home the emotional aspect; he uses reflections, framing, color and light to help us empathize with what’s going on. Sure these tactics have been used before but he does such an incredible job doing so.
We also have to talk about the overall sound design. From the loud scraping and rattling of spaceship metal, to the buzz from the dated technology everything here is brilliant realistic. It just ends up making the film that much more believable.
Overall this movie is an experience that is both emotional and one that fills you with a sense of determination. It’s wonderfully crafted and deserves to be seen on the big screen.