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First Man (2018) - Movie Review

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First Man (2018) - Movie Review

4 stars

Perhaps the only task more difficult than putting a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth is making an interesting film about the rather uninteresting man who first set foot on the lunar surface. Yet Damien Chazelle (La La Land) does just that with his First Man, The story of Neil Armstrong and the program behind him that accomplished the impossible feat.

A notoriously private person – even considered reclusive by many, Armstrong rarely granted personal interviews during his life, and preferred doling out one word answers to the press back when he was hailed a true American hero for his accomplishments during the Apollo space program. But he apparently had a largely unknown duality that Chazelle manages to touch on in his film that explores what drove the astronaut, his family, and colleagues at NASA to accomplish the unthinkable.

"less an historical dramatization than it is a biographical melodrama with plenty of sentimentality"


Born form the pages of James R. Hansen’s book First Man: The Life of Neil Armstrong and adapted for the screen by Josh Singer, Chazelle’s film soars to great heights with strong visuals, big sound, and some of the most realistically depicted imagery of what it must have been like to be strapped onto the top of a Saturn V rocket headed to the moon. As the rocket’s engines come to life, the cockpit shakes, our seats rumble, and even the camera has a hard time keeping up with the chaotic hell taking over as the rocket lunges into its violent ascent into the sky. I recommend catching the film in an IMAX theater if available in your area. If ever there was a movie made for the all-encompassing scope that the format has to offer, this is it. You won’t be disappointed.

But as impactful as those blastoff scenes are, it is the moments when Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is alone, or with family that are just as effective, and where Chazelle separates his film from others that have taken on the subject. The engineer-turned-astronaut spends a lot of time sitting alone at his dining room table double checking the data and verifying the calculations that will prove important once his journey into the unknown begins. Chazelle resists wide camera shots and sweeping pans for the most part, instead, making his story a personal one with close-ups and zooms that explore moods and emotions rather than panoramic landscapes.

Gosling, sporting a steely stare beneath a military buzzcut, delivers yet another memorable performance as the standoffish Armstrong. His measured calm and caution plays nicely against the frenzied grace-under-pressure cool of Armstrong’s instantaneous decision-making skills as all hell breaks loose and things go wrong on an almost regular basis in the early days of NASA’s Gemini and Apollo programs.

As important to the entire NASA program as anything the astronauts, engineers, and the machines they built, were the wives and the families involved. Carrying that mantle is Claire Foy as Armstrong’s wife Janet, who keeps her bound-for-fame Neil Armstrong grounded in being a husband and father, while shielding their two boys from the mission’s danger. There’s an especially powerful scene as Foy confronts a couple of NASA managers who attempt to downplay a mission accident. When explaining that they have everything under control, Foy’s Janet reminds them, “you are a bunch of boys playing with balsa wood airplanes. You don’t have anything under control.”

As its titles suggests, First Man isn’t the story of man’s journey to the moon. It is the story of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. And as such, it is less an historical dramatization than it is a biographical melodrama with plenty of sentimentality that rests on Chazelle’s storytelling and the actors portraying the story. And like the teamwork needed to pull off a mission to the moon, everyone does their part in this story that explores what drove Armstrong, his family, and everyone in the NASA program. As well as how dangerous it was for everyone involved.

First Man (2018) - Movie Review

Though the film is over two hours long, it never lags or wanes as Chazelle manages to always keep his from-the-kitchen-to-the-moon story interesting, and Gosling’s Armstrong never feels like a mere passenger in his own story. Scenes of quiet calculation and introspection, are often followed by moments of armrest-grabbing frenzy as there is never a shortage of catastrophic malfunctions or deadly explosions.

Additionally, when Armstrong does crack the code and finally manages to make that fateful first step, only the old curmudgeons amongst you will fail to bask in the anamorphic beauty of Chazelle’s moon shots. Save for a minor melodramatic stumble, they are truly something to behold.

So strap in and hang on! This baby's going to the moon. But the real question is: do you have the right stuff for the ride?

First Man (2018) - Movie Review

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some thematic content involving peril, and brief strong language.
Runtime:
141 mins
Director
: Damien Chazelle
Writer:
Josh Singer
Cast:
Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke
Genre
: Drama | Biography
Tagline:
experience the impossible journey to the moon.
Memorable Movie Quote: "you guys have nothing under control."
Theatrical Distributor:
Universal Pictures
Official Site: www.firstman.com
Release Date:
October 12, 2018
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No details available.
Synopsis: A look at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.

First Man (2018) - Movie Review

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First Man (2018) - Movie Review

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