Emotional & Hopeful

These are the two words that best describe Damien Chazelle’s fourth feature directorial outing, his most recent films of acclaim being Whiplash and La La Land. This film further pushes Chazelle into the frontline of the most talented directors currently in Hollywood, brave and daring enough to reach high into the sky of historical biopics, extending beyond the bounds of traditional fiction and having the ability and craft to re-create such culturally significant moments in modern history is really an accomplishment in itself.

Set over the ten years leading up to the 1969 Apollo 11 Moon Landing, the film follows Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling) as he works his way up in NASA to become one of, if not the most iconic figure in American space history. The movie is shot on three different film formats – 16mm, 35mm and 65mm (the same format used for Christopher Nolan’s 2014 space epic Interstellar ), allowing the viewer to feel the unique perspective of different time periods and places, particularly complimented by the emotional nostalgic feel evoked by the colors and texture of the many scenes shot in 16mm early in the film.

To this end, the cinematography of Linus Sandgren is to be commended for its technical achievements, although I personally disliked the way quite a few scenes were shot, as I felt that more energy and passion was devoted to giving the film an artificial vintage look than on the emotional aspects of the story that visuals of a movie should really be focused on, even a basic shot of two characters talking does not need to be excessively touched up to look like a 1950s Hollywood classic.

To the somewhat less exciting aspects of the film, we must take a look at the performances of the leading actors. Between Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy and Australia’s own Jason Clarke, I was sorely disappointed with what I felt were unimaginative, forced emotional charades that are either purely poor work on the part of the actors, or an illustration of Chazelle’s perhaps naive and inexperienced directing style. I admire Whiplash very much and I certainly think both Gosling and Clarke are both very strong actors with a high level of talent, so I’m going to go with the view that the main actors were simply miscast, not to mention the embarrassingly ridiculous casting of Cory Stroll as Buzz Aldrin. It seems that the director was simply too intent on returning to collaborate on a film with his acclaimed La La Land leading star.

Overall this film really is a passion project for Chazelle which feels real and well-intentioned, but while an entertaining flight, it does fall down many times along the way with its clear technical flaws, missed shots at overdramatisation and its obvious miscasting of iconic historical figures, but a brave attempt at a biopic drama nonetheless and I do look forward to what else this rising young director has to offer.

Score: 6/10