×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Moving Space Race Drama ‘First Man’ Is a Go for Launch This Oscar Season

Racking up three best picture Oscar nominations in a row is a tall order for legends, let alone 33-year-old wunderkinds, but Damien Chazelle is poised to get there with “First Man.”

The film, about the Gemini and Apollo space programs and specifically the Apollo 11 moon landing, is a slightly different gear than the innervated approaches to “Whiplash” and “La La Land,” however. It takes its time (all 140 minutes) digging into the headspace of astronaut Neil Armstrong after he and his wife Janet suffer an unconscionable tragedy early on. It’s a movie about a man holding pain deep within, and it builds to an emotional catharsis that reminds just how great Chazelle is at nailing the endings of his films. He knows how to send you out on a high. (The script this time was written by Oscar-winning “Spotlight” scribe Josh Singer.)

Technically, the film is a marvel, though it doesn’t look like a ton of money was thrown at it either. Much of the photography in the various launch and flight sequences is quite claustrophobic, never cutting outside the modules to give the viewer context or a breather. Chazelle saves that for his finale. All of that is in keeping with a clenched protagonist who wears absolutely nothing on his sleeve.

But the sound in these sequences is quite arresting. A filmmaker friend who saw an early cut some months back called it “‘Dunkirk’ in space,” and that kind of tracks. You’re right there with the astronauts. A 4DX presentation of the film would be kind of amazing, but you’d need a barf bag.

Speaking of sound, Oscar-winning composer Justin Hurwitz’s score is half the emotional experience. It moves from propulsive and thrilling to elegiac and melancholic with ease. He can expect more recognition from his peers in a few months’ time.

Ryan Gosling’s performance as Armstrong is exactly what the roles calls for, a near-cipher, a stoic presence with a deep well of grief below the surface. As well, there is a clear drive to the man, an obvious passion for his work and for the missions that would ultimately propel the nation, the world, into the future. Passive performances can sometimes struggle when you have a vast body of people voting, though, so his Oscar fate is up in the air. But he did exactly what he needed to do.

Claire Foy, however, ought to easily nail down a supporting actress bid. She goes beyond the “suffering wife” trope, beyond similar roles in films like “The Right Stuff” and “Apollo 13” to a fierce and wise place.

Overall — and not to get too far out in front here — the film could be good for nominations in the double-digits. It’s an inspiring tale, of course, and it’s treated with the proper awe and wonderment. A smattering of applause trickled through the Telluride audience Friday night when Armstrong intoned, “The eagle has landed.” It reminds of the pride we should feel every day that we actually did this. That’s what Chazelle set out to do from the beginning. “The hope is to put you in a mindset where it hasn’t happened yet, and it’s the most insane thing that a group has ever come together to do,” he told Variety just before launching into production.

Which makes all the fuss over the absence of a scene depicting the flag planting all the more asinine. This film drips with the spirit of a nation that achieved the goal laid out by its fallen leader in 1963. And the damn flag is right there, plain as day.

Take a break from looking for anti-American sentiment. “First Man” has none of it.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Paul Downs Colaizzo

    'Perfect Nanny' Movie Adaptation Taps 'Brittany Runs a Marathon' Director (EXCLUSIVE)

    Leila Slimani’s critically acclaimed, international bestseller “The Perfect Nanny” — aka “Chanson Douce” — is coming to the big screen. Legendary has closed a deal for Paul Downs Colaizzo to adapt and direct the English-language adaptation. Legendary will produce the pic alongside Pascal Caucheteux of Why Not Productions and Philippe Godeau of Pan-Européenne. The story [...]

  • Sterling K. BrownVariety and Women in

    Sterling K. Brown to Narrate Disney Plus Documentary 'One Day at Disney' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Sterling K. Brown is set to lend his voice to the upcoming Disney Plus feature documentary “One Day at Disney,” Variety has learned exclusively. “One Day at Disney” will highlight the people who work on some of Disney’s most beloved stories. The film will highlight 10 specific people and their role at Disney through the lens [...]

  • Mehrdad Oskouei on IDFA Opener ‘Sunless

    Mehrdad Oskouei on IDFA Opener ‘Sunless Shadows’: 'Giving a Voice to Voiceless People'

    Documentary film festival IDFA opened Wednesday with Iranian director Mehrdad Oskouei’s “Sunless Shadows,” the latest in a series of films about incarcerated teens in his homeland. Developed with help from the IDFA Bertha Fund, the film takes viewers inside an Iranian juvenile detention center, where a group of underage girls are serving time for very [...]

  • Stephen Curry John Legend

    Stephen Curry, John Legend Team on Sports Drama 'Signing Day' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Stephen Curry’s Unanimous Media production banner, John Legend’s Get Lifted Film Co. and Sony Pictures are teaming up for the sports drama “Signing Day.” The project, which has tapped screenwriter Adam Hoff, marks one of the first films to be put into development under the NBA superstar’s first-look deal with the studio, which he signed [...]

  • The Banker

    Apple Pulls 'The Banker' as AFI Fest Closing Night Film

    In a last-minute decision, Apple has canceled a planned gala screening of “The Banker,” one of the tech company’s flagship original films that was meant to close AFI Fest on Thursday in Hollywood. Netflix has stepped in and will screen Noah Baumbach’s acclaimed “Marriage Story” in its place. “We purchased ‘The Banker’ earlier this year [...]

  • 'Cats' Will Be Done in Time

    'Cats' Will Compete for Golden Globes After All (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Cats,” one of the most puzzling offerings of this holiday movie season, will likely be competing for the Golden Globes after all. Earlier reports had suggested that the film based on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1981 musical about Jellicle cats would not be vying for end-of-year awards because it isn’t done yet. But sources tell Variety [...]

  • Nederland, Amsterdam, 20-11-2019-Opening Night in CarrÈ

    Gender Parity, Inclusion and Young Talent Take Center Stage at IDFA Opening

    The 32nd International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) opened Wednesday with gender parity, inclusion, and young talent front and center. Twenty-one year-old Canadian-Vietnamese director Carol Nguyen — whose short “No Crying at the Dinner Table” screens at the festival — kicked off the evening, reflecting IDFA’s commitment to young talent and women filmmakers. Nguyen said [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content