First Man (2018) – Dir: Damien Chazelle

Damien Chazelle follows up La La Land (my film of last year) with the story of Neil Armstrong and his mission to the moon.

Starring Ryan Gosling (Armstrong) and Clare Foy (his wife, Janet), the movie opens with Armstrong battling to control a test plane at the edge of space. It’s a tense opening which illustrates the level of danger and lack of sophistication of the, then cutting-edge, technology of 1960. Once back to earth, we are introduced to the heart of the story as Armstrong battles to cope with his two-year-old daughters struggle with terminal cancer. These are heartbreaking and the key to the story.

 

Gosling perfectly channels the closed nature of Armstrong as he tries to deal with his grief while progressing through various NASA missions which will result in him becoming the first man on the moon. He is often seen staring at the moon as if he needs to escape the gravity of earth. It is then Clare Foy’s performance, as Janet, who anchors the drama and provides incite onto the real world stresses these giant steps for mankind inflict. A superb scene involves Janet forcing Neil to face his children and explain that he might not make it back from the Moon. He approaches it like a press conference. There is also good support from actors such as Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty), Kylie Chandler (Super 8) and Ciaran Hinds (Game of Thrones).

The movie is at its best when depicting the testing and missions. They are intense set pieces full of danger (as Janet says “You’re a bunch of boys! You don’t have anything under control!”) and completely believable. The highlight being the landing on the moon.

However, I did feel a bit detached from the emotion of the piece for much of the running time (except the beginning and end). This is partly due to the nature of Armstrong, but I didn’t feel we had enough time to know his colleagues or family to really offset his coldness. The film does move along quickly in order to cover the timeline and perhaps suffers as a result. On the plus side, there is a fantastic soundtrack (complete with Theremin) from Justin Hurwitz (La La Land).

Rating – 8/10

Should you go and see it –  Yes on a big screen. Just be aware this is not a traditional blockbuster or biopic. It’s an indie film about a man’s internal struggle with grief and solitude during one of the greatest achievements in history. However, the mission scenes are intensely real. Clare Foy continues to grow her reputation.

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