Review: First Man

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Ryan Gosling stars at Neil Armstrong (Credit: Universal Pictures Press)

Even nearly 50 years later, it still blows my mind that we, as a species, managed to put a person on the moon. We shot a person 384 THOUSAND kilometres onto a ROCK in SPACE. Before we even had internet or mobile phones or decent television?!

I remain amazed by this feat despite the several hundred movies about the moon landing. I can categorically say that First Man is… another one of those movies.

The film is directed by Damien Chazelle, the man behind La La Land and Whiplash. It’s not specifically about the Apollo 11 mission; its primary focus is the life and times of Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling). They skip most of the technology and science mumbo-jumbo involved in the landing, replacing it with shots of Neil at home with his family. The interplay between man and wife (Janet Armstrong, played by Crown star Claire Foy) is more prominent than the interplay between man and moon.

The two leads are, in a word, incredible. The camera is constantly close-up on either Foy or Gosling’s face, catching every quivering facial expression they show. This really helps the audience feel for the characters, and in fact is the only way the audience can get a grip of the characters, because there’s pretty much no talking ever. The film’s issues come more from how the movie is put together rather than from any single actor.

Obviously, there’s an issue with biopics like this as you don’t want to put words into the mouth of an actual person who actually lived. However, so much of the film focuses on Neil and Janet’s home life – where we have no proof of what was actually said – that the occasional fake conversation for the sake of story telling would be forgivable.

The silence that surrounds the film is successful in one instance though as three of Neil’s space flights are depicted, and it’s honestly as if they actually sent Ryan Gosling up there into the deepest darkness for the sake of Hollywood. The atmosphere during these flight segments is perfectly crafted. Director Chazelle uses the subtle (and not-so subtle) noises of spaceflight, alongside jaw-dropping CGI to carry you up beyond the atmosphere. Some of the tenser moments will have you forgetting to breathe, and every second is spent reminding you that “1960s astronaut” is the scariest possible job.

In short, the movie will have a huge impact on some, and my goodness it is a gorgeous piece of cinema. The spaceflight sections are perfect. But as I mentioned above, Apollo 11 is a popular story for movies, and Chazelle very obviously didn’t want to re-tread old ground. He ensured this by piecing together a very beautiful portrait of Neil Armstrong. Unfortunately, it seems that the creators spent an awful lot of time making sure this film looked good and not a lot of time writing it.


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By Bryce Arthur

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