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First Man

by British Awakening – 23 Oct 2018


Before I go further with my review I must confess to having an avid interest in space exploration and the Apollo missions in particular. I consider myself a minor expert on the topic, so it is hardly a surprise I would go to see a movie about Neil Armstrong the first man on the Moon.

There is no gentle warm up to the film, it opens with a hair raising scene of Neil (Ryan Gosling) and his work as a test pilot and succeeds immediately in getting the message across - Neil does a dangerous job and has nerves of steel. Neil’s ability to stay calm and collected in extreme situations is a theme revisited a number of times in the film. What pleased me was the way that a personal tragedy was related to the audience in a way that sympathetically explained his ice cold manner in later life.

Gosling is an inspired choice to play the leading role and succeeds in portraying his character not as the cold unemotional character Armstrong is often described as but rather a deep, thoughtful man, burdened with an intense sadness that only his work can alleviate.

Claire Foy (the Crown) plays his wife Janet Armstrong and delivers a masterful examination of the ambivalence a loved one has in such a relationship, she is extremely proud of her husband and his achievements but she is also painfully aware of the risks involved in his job. The fatal accidents (and there are many) of his fellow astronauts and test pilots are often viewed from her perspective, the tragic accident involving ‘Gus Grissom (Shea Whigham) and two other astronauts has her as the centre piece rather than Neil. This culminates in a powerful scene where Neil at Janet’s behest has to explain to his young children that although he has been chosen to go to the Moon there is a risk he will not return.

Of course Neil did not go to the Moon alone, Corey Stoll (House of Cards) gives an excellent performance as the more extroverted Buzz Aldrin, a couple of scenes allow Stoll to demonstrate the insensitivity many of Aldrin’s colleagues complained of.

The film moves at a fast pace but covers the key events leading up to the landings, the audience is given gentle reminders that the Vietnam War was raging at the time and a needless ‘let’s lecture the audience’ reminder about the civil rights struggle that plagued America during the 1960s which I feel could have been done more subtly.

All of this builds up to - spoiler alert - the Moon landing! What else to say - perfection, really perfection. The tension from the film migrated into the audience and we were gripped, we were there with Neil and Buzz, fearful of the loss of our radar, hearts racing as the on board computer started flashing alarms, and watching our fuel diminish as we searched for a place to land.

And then we are there - the Eagle had landed, Neil takes his small step for man and there is a bittersweet moment as he reflects on his deep sadness whilst Buzz leaps around with the sheer joy of a child on Christmas day across that barren world.

Go see this movie!

First Man

Runtime: 2 hours 21 minutes

Directed By: Damien Chazelle

Writers: Josh Singer (screenplay by), James R. Hansen (based on the book by)

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke

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