Richard Bellis

First Man: review (with spoilers)

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First Man, directed by Damian Chazelle and starting Ryan Gosling, is a new take on the Apollo 11 mission.

The film focuses more on Neil Armstrong and his family than the actual space exploration though; it is also surprisingly sad, portraying tragic events from Armstrong’s personal life.

This is a film about loss and the ability to keep going for the sake of humanity. It’s a not a Clint Eastwood ‘Hoorah for America’ type of film. Triumph plays a very small part, even though its what the film leads up to.

Ryan Gosling is brilliant as Neil Armstrong. At first, I was a bit sceptical as I’ve never liked many of his films. However, he seems to fit the role really well, taking the audience on an emotional rollercoaster – from the highs of Gemini 5 and Apollo 11 to the low of his daughter’s death.

The plot jumps around a bit, but it starts in 1961 with Armstrong doing tests on the X-20 project (military space plane). He is struggling with his daughter’s illness and, because of this, NASA does not think he is fit to work for the time being.

His daughter Karen was diagnosed with a malignant tumour in the brain stem, which, at the time, was untreatable. This really affects him, but also acts as a driving force for him to continue his work to benefit humanity.

He is enlisted for the Gemini programme, the precursor to the Apollo programme. This is were he befriends fellow astronauts Edward White (Jason Clarke) and Elliot See (Patrick Fugit). NASA have the families living on the same estate, so the families of astronauts get close, having pool parties and BBQs.

This makes their deaths, when they come, all the more tragic.

Gosling is great while portraying the sad, emotional scenes. Claire Foy, who plays his wife Janet, Armstrong, also gives a heavy emotional performance, especially at the dinner table scene where Neil Armstrong has to tell her he may not come back from the moon.

In this way, the moon-landing feat is not shown as celebration of American glory, instead focused on the relief felt by the Armstrong family to have him back safe.

The film has some tense moments (though, as we all know, Neil Armstrong survives). A sense of danger is created by the fact these space shuttles look and sound so much like tin cans, creating a sense of vulnerability. They may also give audiences a ‘space oddity’ vibe, with Armstrong literally floating in his tin can, far above the earth.

Controversially, First Man makes Buzz Aldrin (played by Corey Stoll) look like a bit of a bad guy. He isn’t very remorseful about the deaths of other astronauts and also has the complete opposite personality to Armstrong: Aldrin just appears to be a man who wants to go down in history.

The film also doesn’t mention Michael Collins, the third man on the flight (and the one who always gets forgotten).

The director is also a big fan a shaky cam. While some scenes need this when the space craft is actually shaking, this effect can be annoying when we’re safely on the ground and trying to tell what’s going on in the scene.

Parts of the film seem to be paying homage to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey, with a lot a silent moments (as there’s no sound in space) through out the film.

Overall the film is a good watch if you’re into character-driven films about historical figures. However, if you like Apollo 13 and other big-budget, blockbuster films, beware that space takes a back seat in this one.

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