Biopics are hit or a miss, occasionally being something fresh and new, while most of the time being a regurgitation of film history. Damien Chazelle’s (“Whiplash”, “La La Land”) “First Man” sadly fails to be something new, instead falling in line with other Hollywood true stories about an important historical figure.
Joining the same group as Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. Gandhi, Julia Child, and Steve Jobs, Neil Armstrong was naturally next in line for Hollywood to present his story. In what seems like too obvious and cliche of a title, “First Man” has its visually stunning moments - most notably when we actually get to see the moon - but drags out and is painfully dull throughout.
Ryan Gosling gives a very underwhelming performance as Neil Armstrong, the astronaut most famous for being the first human to step foot on the moon. Armstrong, portrayed as a quiet, soft-spoken and determined man of science, isn’t depicted in any interesting or engaging fashion due to Gosling’s boring, nuance-less portrayal. Gosling simply doesn’t have the charisma and talent to bring a historical figure to the screen.
In his best performance in “Drive”, he barely speaks, yet is captivating throughout due to the reserved and mysterious character he portrays. In “Blue Valentine”, he shines as he falls apart from his wife due to his rich emotional and honest sketch of lost loved. With Neil Armstrong, he doesn't show any different or unexpected sides of the famous figure, instead revealing him to be what we already know him as: a really good astronaut.
“First Man” tries hard to be about more than just Neil Armstrong landing on the moon, but the harsh reality is the only intriguing scene is when we actually see Armstrong and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin land on the surface. The film tries to generate emotional appeal (largely relying on Claire Foy as Armstrong’s wife) by revealing the struggle Armstrong’s dangerous mission had on his family, yet the emotion and drama simply isn’t there.
The death of him and his wife Janet’s daughter doesn’t sink in or have a strong enough effect on the audience to make us feel for Armstrong’s personal struggle. The minor dramatic tones are present simply to distract us from thinking the film is all about the moon landing.
Damien Chazelle does a fine job making “First Man” visually appealing. The scene on the moon although brief is stunning, the musical score by Justin Hurwitz soothing, the production design and cinematography eye-catching at times. But what he fails to do is tell an interesting story that is foreign to us. “First Man” takes us into the personal life of Neil Armstrong, but it isn’t compelling enough to make a movie out of.