‘First Man’ Movie Review

Thanks to Universal Pictures Australia we had the chance to see ‘First Man’ before its national release. This is our review of the movie, but as usual, no matter what we say, we still recommend you to go and see it at your local cinema because there is no better critic than yourself!

“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind”. Many know this famous quote by astronaut, Neil Armstrong, even if they weren’t there when he said it in 1969. ‘First Man’ covers the years leading up to when Armstrong uttered this, after he made the initial human footprint on the moon. It’s a film as much about the personal struggles he went through as overcoming the scientific and spatial barriers to land on Earth’s natural, permanent satellite.

Damien Chazelle again directs Ryan Gosling (they worked together on La La Land) as Neil Armstrong in this biographical drama. Josh Singer adapts James R. Hansen‘s 2005 book to the screen and, with the cinematography of Linus Sandgren, create a powerful and emotive feature that already has strong Oscar buzz. From the opening scene we see, hear and almost feel Armstrong’s flight: jarring camera work and intense audio develop a gritty, realistic feel to space aeronautics. This is repeated throughout First Man, from a 1961 test flight over the Mojave Desert to the pioneering rocket launch on July 16, 1969 at Cape Kennedy, Florida. The sheer physicality required of these missions is not underplayed and the audience get a detailed view into the intense preparations required for such super-human feats.

The intimate portrait of Armstrong’s family life is painted well. His (first) wife, Janet (Claire Foy) is the orbital force in the family, stoically relocating when Neil’s job requires it, raising their two boys and coping with the death of their daughter, Karen. Doctors discovered a tumour in Karen’s brain which led to her death of pneumonia, from arising complications, aged just two. Ryan’s wordless delivery, in the study scene during the family gathering after her funeral, is heartbreaking. Foy’s on-screen presence is commendable, too. Both she and Gosling’s acting are believable and resonant. It is easy to share Janet Armstrong’s frustration and fear when, all around, Neil’s colleagues are perishing in their respective missions. Janet tries to reach out to Neil on occasions, trying to break the emotional wall he’s built to cope. When she watches Neil looking to space from their yard, the distance between Neil and the moon seems less than that between Janet and her husband.

Not without controversy, First Man has been criticised for not showing the moment the flag is placed on the lunar surface. Donald Trump apparently said he wouldn’t see the film, as thinking of Neil Armstrong and “…the landing of the moon, you think about the American flag.” This movie, despite its concentration of the personal side – and sacrifices – of space exploration, still reveals what an amazing expedition it was, and how it inspired a nation to be proud of that. If given the chance I’m sure Trump would see the patriotism inherent in First Man through NASA’s failures but ultimate successes. It is Armstrong’s perspectives of space and Earth, seen from afar, that give this film the humility and wonder this astronaut had. Through his eyes (essentially, the cameras) we are reminded of our fleeting and infinitesimal place in the galaxy.

First Man – In Cinemas 11 October 2018