Thursday, 21 February 2019

Alternate Best Actor 2018: Ryan Gosling in First Man

Ryan Gosling did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for BFCA, for portraying Neil Armstrong in First Man.

First Man is a great film following the path of Neil Armstrong to becoming the first man to land and walk on the moon.

This actually marks the third time Ryan Gosling has led my favorite film of a given year this decade, each time in an introverted role. As I'll mention again here it is the mark of a great actor in the ability to find new ground within similar roles. This then is perhaps a natural progression as in Drive he played a man child finding how to struggling express himself, in Blade Runner 2049, he portrayed the android learning of his humanity, but as Neil Armstrong, the first real life role of this trifecta, he graduates to a character who is already a man. This proposes a different challenge then for Gosling, as this work is not about discovery, ironically enough, because from the outset Neil is more or less the man he will be, with that personality becoming a decisive element on his path to the moon. Unlike a few other portrayals of real people from 2018, Gosling's work here is decidedly not fussy within his approach. He brings a slightly nasally part of his voice more reflective of the real Armstrong's accent, which feels lived in, but is just partially there to help grant the vividness of Gosling's work. This is a fascinating trick on Gosling's part given the nature of the character of Armstrong, who unlike his eventual co-pilot Buzz Aldrin, was a very quiet man. Gosling though simply embodies this type of man of a different era. Gosling's subdued manner so effortlessly evokes the place and time, that was essential in realizing this most unique yet seemingly so modest of a man.

The earliest scenes of the film we are given the two separate weights upon Armstrong as a man as he pilots a dangerous experimental ship that results in an unpleasant landing. Gosling's eyes lying a determination in the moment, but with a greater intensity within his eyes beyond that point. This is as we find the second, that unquestionably influenced the first, as we enter into Armstrong's home life. The film focusing initially on the great personal trial of his young daughter suffering from a brain tumor. The greatness of Gosling's work, which sadly I was not surprised by it being generally ignored by most, is not to treat any moment simply as time to be onscreen. Gosling's work rather is this way of working within the canvas of the minimal, that was the man who was Neil Armstrong. Gosling instead fashions something rather extraordinary in this textured portrayal of how does a man, who essentially hates to show emotion, show emotion. This again is not in the typical work of a repression, where the film is about the man losing that repression. No Gosling's work is of a man who is this man, and will always be this man. There will not be change, and in stead his portrayal is creating the sense of allowing us into his unique state of being, while never compromising that nature of the man. Gosling wishes to bring Armstrong to life essentially as the silent enigma he would be to most if one were to look at him in a public sense, but allows the intimacy the cinematic perspective allows.

Take for example the early scenes with his daughter, that in a way Gosling uses as an empathetic entry point for the viewer, as we naturally see Armstrong at his most vulnerable. This is still as a guarded man, but as a guarded man within this extremely difficult time. Gosling bringing the most gentle, yet most definitely striking, warmth in his attempts to comfort his ailing daughter. His eyes watching her treatment filled with the sense of foreboding and sadness. Gosling consistently makes such powerful use of his eyes here, in the closeups he so quietly shows the right pain of the man from this situation. In his call to medical professionals just to see if there are any potential ways to save his daughter, Gosling delivers the lines of that of who most would see as a very stable individual. This is not though the case for Neil where the ever so slight strain in his voice, is Neil's version of being distraught openly to another person. Neil's daughter succumbs tragically to the tumor where Gosling shows the very real emotions of the man so potently. This in the moment of watching the casket and it is in this public moment where his expression evokes a man ready to break at any second. It is only wholly alone where we do see Gosling breakdown in one of the most striking depictions of grief I've seen. Gosling shows the man essentially trying even in this private moment to keep it within himself, yet it is so overwhelming in this truly heartbreaking out pour of the palatable anguish in him.

Neil's way of dealing with his grief though outside of this private moment is by essentially working through it. Gosling's is again outstanding by realizing this very unique nature of the man, and making it wholly honest. This is as he goes to work, while someone comments on that he does not need to go in, his way of saying "I know" is a blunt while brief, with the in the moment of intensity of a man who intends to narrow his thoughts to his work, and sort of away form his grief. I write sort of as there is this brilliant vein that Gosling creates within his performance as this conviction within his task that builds towards space flight. There will be more on that later on this review. What I love though is how almost covertly expressive this performance is by Gosling, because again this is not a performance about a man being someone else, or discovering something new about himself. Gosling shows Neil to be the man he is, that also helps to define his eventual achievement, and in that idea finds the way of the man dealing with these difficulties his own way. There is a scene I love where Neil is applying for the job at NASA for the space program. Gosling is fantastic in the moment of explaining his own views about the importance of space flight, and again the change is subtle, yet with an understanding of his basic state, Gosling reveals this remarkable very internalized passion that outlines his belief so strongly. There is also a moment though where one of the hiring panel asks about his daughter. Gosling's reply of "Is there a question", says so much in so little, in his darting glance, and in his manner that would seem indifferent in a more emotional man, yet is that of a discontented anger in Gosling's Armstrong.

A central element of the film is of course Armstrong's relationship with his wife Janet (Claire Foy) which is a most unique romance in the film. In that while Janet is more emotional than Neil, she is still far more subdued than the average person. Their relationship then is a very tricky one to pull off without making the distance too much, or falling into just a simple repression. This isn't the case actually as Gosling and Foy find a very potent sense of love between the two, though certainly very atypical. A lot of is actually down to the physicality, which is interesting in that we actually see the two touch each other very rarely. It is rather in some quiet, but essential way of honestly just how they look at one another, how they face another, how they touch when they do touch, that grants such a sense of affection even in this rather unusual fashion. There is such a wonderful chemistry though realized in this that grants the sense of the history between the two, that was not some grandiose romance, but two modest individuals coming together. Again I love the instances of where Gosling does open up in a sense, that he brings this impact to, in how they separate. Take for example the moment where confirms their move when he is accepted in the space program. His "I got it" is all business after getting off the phone, but his way of telling her that it can be a good change, again Gosling in just the little somberness in this is able to convey that connection in their loss, and that it still haunts Neil though with the hope of being able to continue on as a family.

In his move to the space program things seem initially positive enough as he makes friends with the other astronauts, including Ed White (Jason Clarke). In these scenes we get a brief reversal of sorts in some fantastic moments where Gosling essentially gets to show a more open Neil, and beyond just public professional camaraderie. There are two scenes that are incredible by Gosling given that in each the lines would seem almost meaningless for a man that is not Neil Armstrong. Take for example a scene with Janet where Neil tells her about some of the developments of the program including a change in the nature of the flight in space. Gosling in this moment is showing Neil as essentially an extremely excited for man, which for Neil is still pretty calm. Gosling makes the excitement so genuine as he shows the way it is expressed for Neil. It is pure to the nature of the man, and it is fascinating how such an introverted method still is so deeply felt within Gosling's work. The same is in a moment where after essentially becoming real friends with Ed he mentions that his daughter had a swing set back home. Again nearly innocuous in the moment, yet Gosling carries the weight of it as this sharing of something deeply personal in his moment of open introspection. His way of looking down in the moment is essentially his way of expressing this grief for understanding to a friend, which Gosling realizes so poignantly, even as this man still is so carefully allowing his inner torment to be seen by a friend.

The space program though is obviously not one for the faint of heart as their fellow pilots frequently die in failed tests. In a way Gosling shows why such a man like Armstrong would be ideal for this given he is not one to breakdown in such circumstances, as he seeks to try to keep himself together at all times. There is an outstanding moment, that is sheer perfection as performed by Gosling, where one of their friends dies, and Neil retreats to moon gazing alone. As a fellow man who when emotionally distraught prefers to separate myself from others in the initial brunt of it, Gosling captures this attitude flawlessly in his especially direct of Neil explaining that he wants to be alone to clearly avoid talking in that moment. Gosling reveals the stress of the emotion however it is within that sharp cut down of Ed trying to make him open up. This strain though becomes in a way this continued vein within the death of his daughter. This as deaths continue, even sadly Ed's in the Apollo11 disaster. Gosling though is able to conduct this into essentially this ever growing intensity in Neil. What's so fascinating though is that this is not towards an emotional breakdown. It is rather through the conviction within his path towards the moon. In every succeeding scene where he discusses the disasters Gosling bring just that bit more passion, that is so powerful for Neil, as he shows a ever growing need to reach his destination. Gosling is able to realize a man who does not lose himself to these losses, but rather conveys they way they quite nearly empower his conviction towards his final goal. This is however never a blithe idea. This is as Gosling in his subtle approach is able to show Neil very much feels every loss deeply, but deals with them in his own way. When directed confronted though Gosling is astonishing in revealing every part of the man trying to keep himself on point.

One small, yet brilliant touch, is his physical approach in each moment. Take for example his scene where Janet forces him to talk to their sons about the chances that he may not return from the spaceflight. It might sound simple, but the way Gosling constantly twiddles his thumbs in this scene shows the way man attempts to redirect himself to maintain his composure fully. This is as his eyes still do convey this more than a hint unease, which is a whole lot for Neil, as he tells his sons what might happen as calmly as he can. The stress of this situation is wholly revealed by Gosling's work which again is so tricky, as he still maintain that general calm, yet shows for a man like Neil, that this is truly harrowing for him. Now I have actually barely mentioned Gosling's performance in the action sequences, which shouldn't be hand waved by any measure. As Gosling's work is essential in their success creating that first man experiencing in every event they go through, creating the sense of strain, the physical wear, but most importantly that forceful determination in his eyes. Gosling work takes you with him in these scenes, as he brings you into Neil's place of mind, and state being at every point, even with the presumed handicap of playing such a subdued nearly enigmatic individual. This is as I wasn't sure what the film would quite offer in the moon landing sequence. An undoubtedly impressively staged sequence in the orchestration on every technical front, and without a doubt an achievement by director Damien Chazelle. What takes the sequence beyond a nearly flawless technical exercise, is the work of Ryan Gosling. This is in creating that human path of the man's grief to this scene where once again Neil has time alone, but now in a lonely spot on the moon. It is a silent moment, it is a brief moment frankly, but did cause me to question a droplet of salty discharge near my eye at the end of this scene? Yes it did. This is in Gosling's expression that is awe inspiring as in his own eyes he captures the loss of his daughter, but also path that brought him to this very personal moment of remembrance for her within this monumental achievement. This is a masterful turn by Ryan Gosling as he fully realizes, and never betrays, this man who is quiet and modest in nature. Then within that purposeful technical limitation gives this vibrant, intimate and heart wrenching portrait of a most ordinary yet extraordinary man.

41 comments:

Mitchell Murray said...

Hell f**ken yah!!

An outstanding performance from a great actor, and we can only hope Gosling's talent continues to be employed in rewarding projects.

Although this may be a difficult one for you, Louis, what would be your top 5 Gosling performances after seeing this film?

Bryan L. said...

And the winner is...



Charles H said...

This decade was the decade of Gosling. I don't think any actor of his age range, or many at all surpasses what he's done for the 2010s. Blue Valentine, Drive, The Place Beyond the Pines, The Nice Guys, La La Land, Blade Runner, and now the topper First Man. Even his lesser performances such as Only God Forgives isn't terrible. It's shown how much he's grown. His acting range has only gotten larger and i cannot wait to see was this coming decade will have for him.

He gives my favorite performance of 2018 and i'll be more than happy to see him finally get a win.

Charles H said...

Of course Ben Foster and Tom Hardy deserve so much credit for also dominating the decade, but as far as greater heights go i gotta give it to Gosling.

Matt Mustin said...

Yet another amazing performance from a great actor. Honestly, I would not be opposed to the idea of Gosling and Chazelle becoming regular collaborators.


Mitchell: He might want to hold off on that until after the overall ranking.

Bryan L. said...

Matt: Makes sense, since he also gave Goslings' then-revised Top 20 moments in the Overall results after Blade Runner: 2049.

Also, for some reason, I thought that they used the actual recording of Armstrongs' famous line in the film. But nope...it's Gosling himself

Emi Grant said...

Louis: So, this has become the first film to make you cry? I don't blame you, I was tearing up in that moment as well.

Also, your Top 10 Chazelle directing moments?

Bryan L. said...

It's also cool that those two films mentioned in the first paragraph and this film all have great soundtracks/scores.

Matt Mustin said...

Bryan L: And those two are also two of the best shot films of the decade (Blade Runner being *the* best shot, period, I would argue.)

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

For me, this was the best performance of the year, and it's my favourite performance by an actor who has probably become my favourite actor working currently. Gosling's consistency as of late is nothing short of astonishing

Charles H said...

Louis: Who are your top ten actors of this decade.

Michael McCarthy said...

Either Gosling or Melissa McCarthy have the strongest super-objective of any 2018 performance.

And now we wait for Ethan Hawke.

Matt Mustin said...

Gotta say, I'm looking forward to Hawke's review, but I do not envy Louis having to sit through First Reformed again. That movie actively ruined my day when I saw it.

Bryan L. said...

Matt: I won't argue with anyone who has Blade Runner: 2049 as their best-shot film of the decade. As for First Reformed...ugghhh...tell me about it...


Charles: I think we should wait for the results for that list as well.

Charles H said...

Bryan: Possibly, although i wouldn't think it would give much of a spoiler for the overall.

Calvin Law said...

I’m not even gonna lie, Gosling made me weep with his work here. It’s such a testament to a great actor that he can find new ways of playing such subdued characters and even though he’s my win already, your review made me appreciate even more things about the performance.

I’m so happy to have seen how he’s continually refined his craft over the years and besides a few misfire, finding new and daring ways to explore acting. I think that’s really commendable.

Michael McCarthy said...

Not everyone likes First Reformed, but it's hard to criticize Hawke's performance right?

Then again, 3/5 of my top 5 have already gotten 4.5s...

Calvin Law said...

Charles: You could argue he’s had the greatest run this decade although I’d have to say the counterpoint to that would be Gangster Squad and The Big Short. I actually don’t think he’s terrible or anything in Only God Forgives.

Calvin Law said...

Michael: Yeah I can’t think of any reservations he might have. To be fair, Louis hasn’t actually expressed dislike of the film, it just seems like he wasn’t quite taken by it. I think he’ll end up on the more positive side of things.

Charles H said...

Calvin: They certainly are Gosling's lows for the decade but they really don't matter, they're just a blemish. Oscar Isaac, Tom Hardy, and Michael Fassbender all had their lows too.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your thoughts on the cinematography and production design of The Prowler (1951).

BRAZINTERMA said...

After 5 noms for best actor Ryan finally winns one year.

Luke Higham said...

Charles: With Fassbender, even when he's usually solid, he just happens to be in poor films. There's nothing he could've done to enliven The Snowman and Hardy at least added some entertainment value to Venom. With Issac, his recent run of form has been bizarre to witness for someone of his talent.

Also, it irritates me when some let one bad performance change their entire perception of an actor. As if Louis' opinion on Foster will change with a complete 180 with Alpha Dog.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

In terms of output this decade, these are the actors who've impressed me the most:

Ryan Gosling (He's my Lead Actor Win for Drive, Blade Runner 2049 and First Man)
Ben Foster (I haven't seen Alpha Dog, but he's been outstanding in everything else I've seen him in)
Tom Hardy (He's had an impeccable run with just one average performance in Venom and one can't ever forget his 2015 output)
Michael Fassbender (I won't let The Snowman take away his solid to great performances otherwise. I just think he needs a break before delivering like he usually does.)
Ethan Hawke (Before Midnight, Boyhood, Maudie, Born to be Blue, First Reformed, I loved him in all of them. He's a fantastic actor. )

Luke Higham said...

Tahmeed: I'd put Phoenix in there too.

Calvin Law said...

Louis: your thoughts on 'The Armstrongs', 'First to Dock', 'Docking Waltz', 'Whitey on the Moon', 'Apollo 11 Launch', 'The Landing' and 'Crater' from the First Man score.

Emi Grant said...

Louis: Also, your thoughts on "Quarantin" from First Man's score. My personal favorite.

Luke Higham said...

Guys, your ten predictions for 2019. You could predict anything TV related if you want.

Bryan L. said...

Here are my Top Five actors of the decade, alphabetically

Michael Fassbender
Ryan Gosling
Tom Hardy
Matthew McConaughey
Joaquin Phoenix

I would've included Isaac but he just got dethroned by Gosling in this film. And I like Foster a lot too.

And Top Five Actresses

Marion Cotillard
Carey Mulligan
Saoirse Ronan
Emma Stone
Tilda Swinton

Bryan L. said...

Luke: Hhmmm...I prefer to be surprised by the world of cinema. But to answer your question, I think (mostly) everything in Avengers: Endgame will work out.

Luke Higham said...

Bryan: I have a feeling Tony Stark will retire from The Avengers and Steve Rogers will be killed off.

Bryan L. said...

Luke: It's also interesting that RDJ has been pretty quiet about his future with the MCU, while Evans' departure made a lot of news.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

My predictions:
Game of Thrones: Everybody dies, and it'll be a bittersweet ending at best. I have a feeling one of the three central heroes will definitely bite the dust, and someone will have to be sacrificed to fulfill the Azor Ahai prophecy.

Avengers: Most of the Avengers will come back to life (inevitable due to the future films and commercial prospects). I also think Downey Jr will give a 4.5/5 star performance, he looked great in the trailers.

Stranger Things: Since the Duffer Brothers promised a season with raised stakes, I have a feeling they might kill off one of the main cast.

Toy Story 4: The toys will end up parting ways again, and I think it's guaranteed to be another tearjerker.

Calvin Law said...

My bold prediction is that...The Irishman won’t turn out great. I’m hoping against that of course.

Within the Chazelle-Gosling-verse a hypothetical 2010s It’s a Wonderful Life directed by Chazelle:

George Bailey: Ryan Gosling
Mary Bailey: Lily James (could obviously just go Foy again though)
Clarence: Henry Winkler
Mr Potter: Ciaran Hinds
Uncle Billy: Stephen Root
Ma Bailey: Miranda Richardson
Ernie and Bert: B.J. Novak and J.K. Simmons
Violet: Jessica Rothe
Mr Gower: Edward James Olmos
Mr Martini: Harry Shearer

Calvin Law said...

Also Louis, thoughts on the Rocketman trailer.

Bryan L. said...

Calvin: That...sounds like it could be amazing, and you know Chazelle would kill that ending.

Matt Mustin said...

Calvin: Henry Winkler as Clarence is perfection.

Louis Morgan said...

Will get to requested thoughts.

Anonymous said...

RIP Opportunity Rover, you've served us well.

"My battery is low, it's getting dark".

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