Director Damien Chazelle was screwed out of the Academy Award for Best Picture two years ago for “La La Land.” So was his star, Ryan Gosling. So the big news is they are back with “First Man,” the gorgeously lyrical nail biting story of how astronaut Neil Armstrong became the First Man on the Moon. It will be hard to beat them this time.
“First Man” comes with a screenplay by Josh Singer, Oscar winner for “Spotlight.” The musical score is from Justin Hurwitz, also of “La La Land.” Cinematographer Linus Sandgren is also back from “La La Land.” They are all working at their respective heights.
Add to this group, Claire Foy, aka Queen Elizabeth from “The Crown” as Janet Armstrong. I’ll tell you now I expect she will win Best Supporting Actress without much trouble. She’s that good, the part is that well written for her. I’ve long admired Foy, but this is a stunning start to her movie career.
Chazelle already earned raves in Venice but tonight was the North American premiere. In Venice, a tempest in a teapot broke out over the exclusion of a scene depicting the planting of the American flag on the moon. This turns out now not to be true. The planted flag is shown, and there are plenty of American flags throughout. The movie is very patriotic.
So what happened? In order to avoid cliches, and depicted scenes shown previously in other movies like “Apollo 13,” Chazelle told me he chose not to dramatize those moments. ” We were looking for new moments not seen before,” he told me. So we don’t see Apollo 11’s re-entry either, or landing, or the astronauts getting a ticker tape parade.
Instead, “First Man” focuses on Neil Armstrong, his wife and children. The moon landing is seen through their eyes. This gives “First Man” a freshness, and a new perspective. The movie is a cinematic gift. This is no surprise. Chazelle’s first two movies, “Whiplash” and “La La Land” were the same. At 32, his career is soaring.
Great supporting performances from Jason Clarke, Ciaran Hinds, Brian D’Arcy James, Corey Stoll, and Lukas Haas among others. But “First Man” is almost a two hander, with Gosling and Foy doing superior work. I can’t wait to see this again– and to get the soundtrack.