When it comes to historical moments in our history, we seem to talk more about that event than the people involved in it. In First Man, the focus does shift to them, Neil Armstrong the first man to walk on the moon. A story that’s not so much that one small step for man he took but the pain, tragedy before taking those iconic steps.
Based on the James R.Hansen biography ‘First Man: Life Of Neil Armstrong‘. Focusing on Armstrong’s year’s during the 1960’s (1961 until 1969), one of the most turbulent eras in American history. The times may have been exciting as exploration fuelled a nations thirst to put a man in the moon. It didn’t help much that this was also the Cold War era, meant anything they tried they would be challenged by Russia and they wanted to beat them!
The film charts during Armstrong’s time as a civilian astronautic test piloting hyper sonic planes (we open with Neil testing a plane). Building up to the historical event to those first steps on to the moon. Unless you follow Space history or read the biography, very little is known about Armstrong’s civilian days. Unless he shared it with you, it seems he was a very arduous person to read or even understand.
First Man is an character study on loss, grief and acceptance. Armstrong seemed was devoid of emotion largely thanks to the tragic death of his infant daughter Karen. She died of cancer, which is no easy matter for any age, but when its your 2 year old child, the sense of loss is undescribable.
It’s hard to say if the grief was driving Neil Armstrong to succeed or simply eating him inside. We know he was involved /witnessed several of the failed Apollo missions. It didn’t help his mindset either he was seeing many of his colleagues and friends die in trying which put more stress on his own journey.
Ryan Gosling delivers a formidable performance of a stoic, prudent dispassionate man of very few words. He may have struggled with his home life, his wife Janet (Claire Foy) was the glue keeping that faltering life together. She tirelessly attempts to decode her husband’s cold silence. Playing with with his ‘boys toys made of balsa wood’ she reminds Neil and his colleague its the women who are keeping their families together when they play. A stark reminder the actions they make as astronauts don’t just affect the nation, them too. Foy does steal the limelight several times with great ferociousity ,the voice reminding Neil of his family duties.
First Man is no easy watch and if your hoping for a nice follow up to La La Land you will be severely disappointed. Damien Chazelle has crafted a film layered with tension and suspense. Among the political context and propaganda, there is also a family drama. One dealing with loss and grief ready to take that one small step in the history books.
Linus Sandgren‘s cinematography captures the intimacy of humanity with grainy close ups that feel they were genuinely taken during the 1960’s. The suffocating, terrifying isolation of space is perfectly captured. Like place for Neil Armstrong to unbottle that grief he can release with his loved ones.
First Man is a profoundly rewarding film thats visceral and epic in its every step.
Paul Devine | [rating=4]
Biography, Drama | USA, 2018 | 12 | Blu-Ray, DVD, 4K, Digital Download | 18th February 2019 (UK) | Universal Pictures | Dir/Damien Chazelle | Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke