Damien Chazelle’s First Man is an intimate portrait of the first man on the moon and not necessarily of his times; in absolute essence it is the tale of focus and realization. Look for the number of times the camera stays on the eyes of Ryan Gosling and then cuts to the solitary moon.
Unnaturally too for a space biography film which could have made us of the expanse, the camera lurks close to the astronaut and their families, but the emotions that come with the families are not not effective and as with most real lives do not readily lend themselves to drama.
Ryan Gosling is fantastic as an distant archer with eyes always on target but using the moonshot as a way to get over his daughter’s death results leads to a contained movie.
This leads me to a question on the nature of bio-pics themselves; to establish the greatness of a person or in other words for a person to warrant a bio-pic shouldn’t the impact and hence the setting be also part of the story telling? Chazelle doesn’t seem to think so, but maybe he is right; everyone knows that Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon; here it is more about carrying the weight of ambition.
The Apollo Moon Landings is a very important moment in American history, it reestablished them as ‘the greatest country in the world’ and the ones who reached for the stars (to quote that monologue from the Newsroom) and to see a film that does not harp on this fact is a bit unnerving.
Probably greatness is incidental and that makes making greatness as the main goal pointless. To be the best versions of ourselves, space and time permitting seems a more fulfilling goal.
PS: The 2 biggies in the theatres currently (First Man & A Star Is Born) were both first optioned by Clint Eastwood; both were finished by others.