Review of First Man

Spoiler alert!

Adapted from James R. Hansen’s novel, First Man is an absolute must see movie. Damien Chazelle, director of Whiplash and La La Land, teams up with Ryan Gosling again to create a remarkable rendition of the 1960s space journey that saw the first man walk on the moon.

When I went to the cinema to watch this film, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The extent of my knowledge on the moon landing was limited to the infamous phrase ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’, and so I didn’t know what direction it was going to take. I must say, I was enthralled. The opening scene is filmed within the cockpit of Neil Armstrong’s experimental plane, making for very intense and claustrophobic viewing. It was clear from the get-go that it was going to be a hold your breath, on the edge of your seat kind of film.

The plot was twofold; the narrative follows Armstrong and his team in the years that lead up to the successful Apollo 11 mission, but also the story of his family, their struggles, and most importantly, his grief over the loss of his daughter to cancer. Throughout the film, flashbacks of him nursing her emerge in times of crisis. It seems that the film seeks to find a way in which Gosling’s character can let go of his grief and move on with his family, and with the recurring motif of the moon, it seems that space travel is the only thing that will allow for that to happen.

Director Chazelle has always been reluctant to use CGI in his films, with green screens being on his directors black list. With this in mind, the outcome of First Man is even more phenomenal. The cinematography is utterly seamless and immersive. Gosling is a credit to his direction too, skilfully creating what can only be called a troubled antihero.  Many of the films scenes are solely of Gosling, often close ups inside his helmet which are played out with stunning intensity. His character evokes all sorts of emotions in the viewer, you experience empathy and sadness with the passing of his child, but great annoyance and even anguish at a man who self-destructing at the expense of his family. His face appears waxy and emotionless even through the most stressful and emotionally taxing moments.

Something about this film that cannot be ignored is the brilliance of Claire Foy, who plays Janet Armstrong. She was able to craft a character who you were able to empathise with, but not dare pity. She added a new dynamic to the film, one that made the audience realise how enormous an impact the space race had, not just on the American nation, but on family and society. My fears are that her part will be understated in mainstream reviews, so here is my little ode to her. I expect even greater things from this actress in the years to come, she is a true credit to the film industry.

 

Ultimately, the film is the best I’ve seen in a very long time. Except for the Incredibles 2. It was the ultimate blend of drama, comedy, romance, and tension to be a very thought provoking picture that was historically respectful and deeply moving. The way that the Armstrong’s daughter plays such a key part throughout the film is really moving and enlightens you to the fact that, despite all of his flaws, Gosling’s character is a caring, loving father who is suffering immense grief.

Catch it at the Savoy for a cheap student price, or head to Cineworld for the IMAX experience.