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First Man – Review

One would think going into a film that is based around the moon landing that you’d receive a riveting journey that involves hopes, perseverance and passion – instead, it’d perhaps be wise to align your expectations with something that is more akin to a meditative experience than a journey orbital proportions.

First Man is a biographical drama film based on the life of Apollo Astronaut Neil Armstrong. Manned by director Damien Chazelle, director of La La Land (2016), and written by Josh Singer, writer of Spotlight (2015); there is certainly no shortage of talent helming this film.

This film is about exactly what the title suggests, the First Man, an intimate look into the life of one of history’s most notable figures. This film is as much of a character study as it is a representation of the true events that lead to Neil becoming the man humanity chose for this monumental task. What we’re shown is the complex range of emotions that Neil goes through building up toward his mission; the emotional repression he holds, his estranged relationship with his family, and the drive he has toward finishing the mission for the sake of his fellow astronauts’ sacrifice. Neil is a man who has lost those he cares for deeply, again and again and again; ultimately pushing Neil to go forward with the mission and focus on getting it done.

Neil is a layered man, one with a complicated and painful past, and he keeps much of this pain pressurized within himself. This is where Ryan Gosling comes in. Gosling soars in this role – Armstrong proves to be quite a stoic and quiet individual, a man of few words and this requires a talented actor to handle it. Gosling was no doubt selected due to his expertise in evoking subtle emotion, as seen in films like Drive (2011). We get a fantastic range of emotions from Gosling and he truly shines when he’s at his quietest and most vulnerable. We are also given a rich performance by Claire Foy as Armstrong’s wife, she offers a sense of sanity to Neil’s highly clinical personality.

Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong in First Man - Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong in First Man – Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

The pacing of this film is up and down, as it focuses on many human moments but then halts to a near-stop with some extensive sequences in space that didn’t feel necessary. I felt slightly inundated with sequences that held little relevance later on in the film, and may have only been added for the prospect of continuity. Despite this slight pacing issue we are offered breathtaking visuals. Each set and prop is incredibly detailed and superbly accurate in its portrayal, making the film an impressive technical piece of work. The visuals are beaten only by the compositions of Justin Hurwitz as he stretches his range creating dynamic and versatile sound. You hear every creek and every thrust which further immerses you into the story.

First Man proves to us that director Damien Chazelle is more than capable of expanding beyond his scope, and writer Josh Singer is only getting started. This well constructed character study is a stunning recreation of true events. Though not perfect, it provides everything one could have asked for from a true story film about the first man to walk on the surface of the moon. First Man takes steps in exploring who the first man truly was, giving audiences a cockpit view of his life and the world through his eyes.


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