REVIEW: First Man (2018)

Charting the story of Neil Armstrong, Andrew Riley looks at the upcoming release of First Man.

This film could, in the hands of a less capable director, been a saccharine and sanitised affair, as it is, Damien Chazelle gives us a riveting look at the life of the man who will forever be known as the first human being to walk on another celestial body.

At nearly 2 hours 30 minutes, Its worth every second.

Known for his Oscar-winning hit “La La Land” and “Whiplash” Chazelle moves away from his usual musical fare and into territory that most of us would like to think we know about, that of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

This though is much more than the telling of Armstrong. It documents the loss of his daughter, Karen, in 1961 all the way through his selection to the Gemini program, the loss of his friends in the tragedy of Apollo 1 and through to his steps on the moon with Buzz Aldrin.

The script by Josh Singer, and based on the book by James R. Hansen is kept sparse, and the film is all the more compelling a watch for it.

Ryan Gosling plays the titular First Man and Stockport born Claire Foy his wife Janet, with both having to come to terms with the strains that the space race placed on their marriage and family.

The scene when Mission Control shut down the contact between Janet and Gemini 8, and she rushes over to demand they put it back on is an exceptional piece, in which Foy manages to display the entire range of emotion you would expect of a wife whose husband is spinning in space, not knowing if he’ll ever get to see home again.

This plays nicely to the Apollo 11 mission itself when she admonishes him for spending all his time packing and not talking to their sons about the mission and what might happen…

The whole movie shows how close failure was at almost every turn for NASA and its crews.

Chazelle directs this with a deftness that was so needed. A less competent director may well have focused on Apollo and left the family as an aside, but he manages to keep the story moving without resorting to base emotion. By showing how the job affected not only Armstrongs family, but also showing how everyone was affected by losses elsewhere, we get to see the real astronauts and how they looked at each other.

This is so much more than a biopic. Its a look at how the Americans were desperate to catch and overtake the USSR in the early years of the space race, one which although they ultimately won, it’s telling that no one has walked on the surface of the moon since Gene Cernan in 1972.

Overall, this is one hell of a good movie, and it’s worth setting aside the time to watch.

 

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