The landing on the moon in 1969 is an iconic moment in human history but it’s also a story well told. From speeches to imagery it is something inherently familiar. Yet with the interest in space exploration re-emerging as private companies get involved it would seem like the right time to re-tell it. So, we have First Man a retelling of the flight of Apollo 11. A film by the director and star of La La Land that is both a visceral and emotionally engaging that make it an intense experience. Find out why in our review.
The story of Neil Armstrong is a familiar one. The first man to land on the moon is a pretty extraordinary achievement to have next to your name but as a movie going audience we kind of get it. There is no scandalous secret life, no government conspiracy and really besides the backdrop of war and wasteful spending little tension. Like most true stories we know the outcome and so there is little in the way of thrills too.
Director, Damien Chazelle would no doubt have had a tough time reimagining this story and yet manages to strip away the iconography by telling us a fuller story than previously told. It starts with a test pilot crashing, with a father trying to find a cure for his daughter’s illness and slowly but surely, we move to more familiar bearings of a story we already know told slightly different but decidedly brilliant.
One aspect of First Man surpise offensive is the technical achievement that it is. It seeks to put us inside the intense claustrophobia of a cockpit, the bolted together engineering of the spacecraft, the noise or silence of space and the haunting beauty of it all. All this achieved with a certain archival texture to the whole thing. It’s hard not to have some reaction that goes beyond watching a well-produced documentary. To be fair it might be a bit too much at times.
Still, this really isn’t limited to technical achievement or visuals that make First Man a compelling experience because at its core it is an emotionally engaging drama. Part of the emotional engagement comes from the more obvious isolation of going in to space. Fear, the isolation of being ‘out there’ in space and the pressure to succeed. Yet it’s family that looms large over First Man. The death of Armstrong’s daughter of cancer at the age of two looms large over the film and provides one of the most poignant moments of its finale.
A lot of this drama hinges on the performances of Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy. It’s easy to list their various wonderful recent performances and yet here they do something special. It’s not that wonderful romantic chemistry that films can do in spades but the well-worn rhythms of marriage, the give and take, the tension when someone takes too much, expects too much. Gosling of course carries much of the acting load and this is not a showy performance whose actions are defined in the doing and not the pontificating that comes before them.
First Man Review Cheat Sheet.
First Man is surprising on numerous levels, it’s a deeply human drama and a technical sensory achievement and it combines to make one of the compelling movie experiences. It’s 2018 and the familiar moon-landing Neil Armstrong is a must-see movie and will be one of those films we talk about with awards. Its praise is well deserved.
+ Technical achievement that makes the audience feel that it’s in the spaceship.
+Surprisingly moving story.
+Great performances throughout.
-The putting you in the cockpit might be a bit too much at times.