Sky’s the limit for Chazelle

The Galloway News - - WEEKEND TICKET -

First Man (12A) ●●●●

Not many di­rec­tors launch their main­stream ca­reers with a one-two punch as strong as Whiplash and La La Land.

As a re­sult, it’s safe to say Damien Chazelle marked him­self down as one of the most ex­cit­ing tal­ents in Hol­ly­wood, and now he’s back with a biopic – of sorts – of leg­endary astro­naut Neil Arm­strong.

Chazelle’s La La Land lead­ing man Ryan Gosling plays the first man to walk on the moon and the flick con­cen­trates on Arm­strong’s jour­ney to one of the most dan­ger­ous mis­sions in the his­tory of space travel.

First Man marks a change of pace for Chazelle as he hands over writ­ing du­ties for the first time – to Spot­light and The Post scribe Josh Singer, adapt­ing James R Hansen’s book – and jet­ti­sons the mu­si­cal theme of his ear­lier work.

But the di­rec­tor doesn’t lose any of his cre­ativ­ity or sharp sense of vis­ual sto­ry­telling; the space-set scenes in par­tic­u­lar are wor­thy of com­par­i­son with the likes of Kubrick and Nolan.

Like those two au­teurs, Chazelle takes his time as he lets Singer’s story breath, al­low­ing the char­ac­ters to feel fully fleshed out ahead of the cen­tral trip to space.

To some, it may be a lit­tle too slow as lengthy stretches of di­a­logue abound but with words and act­ing this strong it was easy to main­tain my at­ten­tion.

Thank­fully the script also steers clear of bom­bard­ing our brains with sci­en­tific terms only a NASA ex­pert would know – or dumb­ing things down to an of­fen­sive de­gree.

Gosling con­tin­ues to prove a dab hand at a di­verse range of roles and gets right un­der Arm­strong’s skin. This isn’t a card­board cut-out of an Amer­i­can hero ripped from news­pa­per head­lines; he’s a flawed, bor­der­ing on the ob­ses­sive, fa­ther deal­ing with a hor­ren­dous per­sonal tragedy along­side the pres­sures of reach­ing the moon.

His per­for­mance is sim­i­lar to his turn in Blade Run­ner 2049 and ev­ery­thing the char­ac­ter is go­ing through makes you for­give his cold­ness and of­ten blank ex­pres­sions; it’s all about the in­ner tur­moil.

One-time Queen El­iz­a­beth II and soon-to-be new Lis­beth Sa­lan­der, Claire Foy does pow­er­ful work too as Arm­strong’s wife Janet. What could have been a bog-stan­dard ‘wor­ried woman at home’ role is trans­formed into some­thing more by Foy’s frus­tra­tion, ten­der­ness and ur­gency.

Where First Man re­ally soars, though, is dur­ing the climactic jour­ney; Chazelle takes some­thing that should be pre­dictable and adds mo­ments of ten­sion and un­cer­tainty.

We’re right in the cock­pit with Arm­strong and the rest of the Apollo 11 crew which adds a claus­tro­pho­bic mix of won­der and sheer panic.

First Man doesn’t quite match the bril­liance of Whiplash and La La Land but, by prov­ing he can turn his hand to some­thing dif­fer­ent, it ar­guably en­hances Chazelle’s al­ready rocket-fu­elled rep­u­ta­tion.

To the moon and back Gosling stars as Neil Arm­strong

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