First Man: Film Review

I am a huge fan of Damien Chazelle’s work, so I had high hopes for First Man – which I saw at the Venice Film Festival – after the success of Whiplash and La La Land, and it did not disappoint.

For First Man, he has teamed up with Ryan Gosling and a lot of his trusty La La Land crew once again to tell the story of astronaut Neil Armstrong and the eight years leading up to his successful Apollo 11 mission and his first steps on the moon with Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll).

The moon landing and Armstrong’s infamous words “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” are well known, but I had no idea about his home life – like how he and wife Janet (Claire Foy) lost their young daughter Karen, who had a tumour – or his previous docking mission or the failures leading up to Apollo 11, so it was all very fascinating, although naturally it doesn’t have quite the same stakes because we know they’ll be OK.

Gosling gives an impressive performance as Armstrong, who is a restrained character and keeps all his feelings and grief over the loss of Karen and his NASA pals to himself. You can see it all bottled up inside. Foy is tremendous and is a more outward character – she is scared that her husband won’t return home. Jason Clarke was also good as Ed White, Armstrong’s friend and fellow astronaut, plus Kyle Chandler and Ciaran Hinds as the stressed-out bosses, feeling the weight and responsibility of the cost – in lives and money – in their quest to win the Space Race.

I also need to heap praise on the look of the film – it has a grainy quality making it seem as if it was shot in the 1960s. Linus Sandgren‘s cinematography really puts us inside the spacecraft with the astronauts. It’s claustrophobic and disorientating, and a few times when they are caught in a roll I felt a bit funny and had to look away. How Armstrong didn’t pass out or vomit, I’ll never know.

I also need to praise Justin Hurwitz for his music and the sound design team, especially for the moon landing and the first steps. I didn’t really notice how good it was until that moment, when the sound really comes into prominence and makes that scene more dramatic and moving than it should have been, given that we know what happens.

It’s a bit long, but First Man is a compelling and enlightening biopic, with fine performances, an incredible cast and impressive sound and look. Highly recommend.

In cinemas Friday 12th October

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