Review: First Man

Genre: Biographical Drama
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire foy, Corey Stall, Pablo Schreiber, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Christopher Abbott.
Year Of Release: 2018
Certificate: 12A (UK)
Runtime: 141 Minutes
Director: Damien Chazelle
Writer(s): Josh Singer
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.” IMDB


This 2018 American biographical drama, based on the book ‘First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong’ by James R. Hansen, is directed by Damien Chazelle and stars Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Christopher Abbott and Ciarán Hinds.

NASA test pilot Neil Armstrong (Gosling) and his wife Janet (Foy) experience a number of highs and lows in their personal and professional life during the early 60s. Armstrong strives to focus on his career as an astronaut, while Janet struggles to deal with the stress it brings.

When the USSR carries out the first spacewalk in 1965, Armstrong is selected to join Project Gemini as the ‘space race’ heats up. With fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin (Stoll), Ed White (Clarke) and Deke Slayton (Chandler), Armstrong helps NASA push the limits of space exploration. But the project is not without great sacrifice, and America soon revolts against pointless projects wasting their money. Armstrong is tasked to command Apollo 11, likely to be the first lunar landing craft. Everything he and his family are is tested during the mission that presents nothing but great danger, but serious historical reward…
It’s awards season, which means it’s time for Damian Chazelle and Ryan Gosling to step up again following 2016’s over-praised ‘La La Land’ for another slice of Americana love, this time charting the Apollo 11 moon landing mission and the story of Neil Armstrong surrounding it.

Thankfully no song and dance numbers this time around, just 2hrs 10mins of un-engaging drama, boring back-and-forth conversations that go nowhere and a few sequences of technically solid work. For all it’s the worth, ‘First Man’ doesn’t merit an over-long run time and rather flat performances, bar Claire Foy and Jason Clarke, to tell this story. In fact, Ryan Gosling makes Neil Armstrong one of most unlikeable people I’ve seen in cinema for a long time. And that irked me. I wanted to really discover the man, to cheer him on and understand him. Even though we are given plenty of reasoning behind what he does and why, it still portrays him as a selfish, narrow-minded and miserable person to work with and live with. I found myself caring little about him, which is a shame. But we all know how the story ends anyway, so it’s just about the journey getting there.

The Project Gemini 8 sequence and Apollo 11 moon landing will win awards, and rightfully so. Not just for direction, but for cinematography and sound. Never before as space exploration be so accurately portrayed on film. Of course, we don’t REALLY know what it’s like up in the stars, but Chazelle uses imagery and sound and a muted score to create the vastness of space and the danger and beauty it presents mankind.

The sequences are tense and claustrophobic and loud, and you can just imagine how it was to be an astronaut in the 60s with less than overly convincing technology taking you up into space. It’s the only film sequence that warrants shaky-cam in my eyes.
The Apollo 11 landing too creates a new look at the moon landing with some beautiful shots that, just for a second, authentically tease you to think this really IS the moon we are looking at. It’s quiet and still, and near perfect to represent space.

But apart from these sequences, the other 90mins is everything we’ve seen before, but not done as engagingly. NASA suits and test pilots push the limits of what their astronauts and equipment can do. Housewives struggle with the danger their husbands face. Things go wrong. The public revolts. But this is Armstrong’s story, and it’s just shame Gosling doesn’t really give us anything to get behind in a very bland and boring story indeed.

Technically, this is a solid film. Everything else? Well, it’s critically acclaimed because of who it is, what it is and when it falls.

It’s one small step for man, one giant bore for mankind.

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