Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Leading man has got the right stuff

Leading man has got the right stuff

FIRST MAN marks the second collaboration between director Damien Chazelle and actor Ryan Gosling following the Oscar-winning La La Land.

Yet rather than plough the same furrow, the pair have gone in a completely different direction — to the stars — delivering a riveting true story that’s as moving and intimate as it is spectacular and epic.

Adapted by Oscar-winning screenwriter Josh Singer (Spotlight, The Post) from the best-selling biography by James R Hansen, First Man dramatises perhaps the greatest human endeavour of the 20th century.

On July 20, 1969, the success of the Apollo 11 mission saw the first two men walk on the moon. Here, Gosling plays Neil Armstrong, with Corey Stoll as Buzz Aldrin. Yet “one small step for a man… one giant leap for mankind” was only made possible by an exhilarating eight-year process of research and development, trial and error, courage and faith.

It’s this story that First Man looks to explore, all through the prism of mission captain Armstrong.

It’s is a role tailor-made for Gosling. While he was an all-American hero, Armstrong wasn’t any kind of bombastic hotshot — he just knew what he had to do, and went ahead and did it.

Gosling is blessed with a brooding quality that fits the real man like a spacesuit glove, exuding gravitas, sensitivity and steely determination, with charisma to spare.

Yet this isn’t just a film about the trials and tribulations of nascent space travel. Chazelle also zeroes in on the toll the mission took on Armstrong’s family life.

We see Claire Foy as Armstrong’s wife Janet going toe to toe with NASA chiefs — “You’re a bunch of boys, you don’t have anything under control” — as she voices her fears for her husband’s safety.

Chazelle has described the film as being about “the moon and the kitchen” — meaning the human drama won’t get lost amid all the techno talk of countdowns and rocket launches.

While the eventual outcome is a historical given, Chazelle tells the story of the technical challenges, the inherent dangers, the scepticism of the media, the possibility of failure in the most visceral terms possible, making you invest in every moment.

The director proved himself to be a master of confrontation and intensity with drumming drama Whiplash and filled the frame with energy and wide-eyed wonder in La La Land.

First Man looks to bring these qualities to much bigger, more immersive canvas, promising a spectacular first-hand account of a nerve-shredding mission that sets the heart racing.

The film is showing at the Regal Picturehouse cinema from today (Friday).

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