Movie Review: First Man

Image Source: LondonNet

Written By: Donna M. Day

Distributor: Universal Pictures International (UPI)
Production Companies: Universal Pictures, DreamWorks, Temple Hill Entertainment and Perfect World Pictures
Director: Damien Chazelle
Producers: Marty Bowen, Damien Chazelle, Kevin Elam, Wyck Godfrey, James R. Hansen, Isaac Klausner, Adam Merims, Josh Singer and Steven Spielberg
Scriptwriter: Josh Singer (based on the book by James R. Hansen)
Main Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy and Jason Clarke
Released: October 12 2018
Running Time: 138 Minutes
Certificate: 12A

First Man tells the story of Neil Armstrong’s life in the run-up to and during the Moon Landing.

The story opens with tragedy as Neil Armstrong’s (Ryan Gosling) young daughter Karen (Lucy Stafford) loses her fight against a brain tumour. This obviously has a profound effect upon Neil, his wife Janet (Claire Foy) and their son Rick (Gavin Warren and Luke Winters). Shortly after Karen’s death, Neil sees and advert for jobs at NASA and decides to apply. He is offered a position, and Neil and his family move and start their new life.

As Neil works with NASA on working towards the Moon Landing mission, tragedy continues to shape his destiny as he loses many colleagues along the way. The loss of a close friend is the catalyst for him being offered the life-changing chance of being the first person to land on the Moon.

The sadness that most of the great things happen in his life because of heartbreaking events creates a contrast which give the story a poignancy, which is emphasised by the stoic and calm character of Neil. Gosling’s performance is quiet and serious, with touches of gentle emotion that feel very real.

There is a lot of detail about NASA and the people who worked there. This is a very male-dominated film, reflective of the time period when the events happened and the gender politics at NASA during this time. Conspicuous in their absence are Margaret Hamilton and Katherine Johnson, who both worked on the Apollo space mission. While this is obviously a film about Neil Armstrong particularly, it seemed a shame that in a film which is over two hours long, there was not even a cursory mention of the women at NASA who were key to the success of the mission.

It can be difficult to maintain pacing in something of this length and there are times where the film seems to drag. The ending also feels rather rushed in places before trailing off quietly, leaving a sense of anti-climax, which is ironic considering the amazing achievement which has been shown.

Special effects are used amazingly in this film. The contrasts of light and dark, and noise and silence create breathtaking effects. There are points in the film where you may feel that the sound has actually malfunctioned during the periods of deafening silence after the roars of spacecraft.

Neil makes the point in the film that travelling to space changes your perspective, and the film aims to create this sense with quiet periods of reflection gazing down at the seemingly peaceful Earth.

These scenes are contrasted with images of political upheaval and protests about the amount of money being spent on the space race. These difficulties are reflected in the tension between Neil and his wife at home. Many of the home scenes are cinema verité style and feel very much like home movies creating a domestic tenderness in amongst all of the highly technological scenes.

The characters in the film are shown in a brutally honest manner with many of their flaws exposed, particularly Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) who often makes socially inappropriate comments.

There has been a lot of discussion about whether the film is “anti-American” as it does not show Neil Armstrong planting the American flag on the Moon. This does not seem to be the case at all. While the actual planting is not shown, as many of the events of the landing are not due to a focus on Neil’s story and his personal reflections, the flag is shown on the Moon and there is a lot of focus on America beating Russia in the space race.

This is an inspiring film, with awesome effects that will leave you thinking about your place in the universe.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 –Good