Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Screenplay by: Josh Singer
Produced by: Wyck Godfrey, p.g.a., Marty Bowen, p.g.a., Isaac Klausner, Damien Chazelle
Based on the Book by: James R. Hansen
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Patrick Fugit, Christopher Abbott, Ciaran Hinds, Olivia Hamilton, Pablo Schreiber, Shea Whigham, Lukas Haas, Ethan Embry, Brian D’Arcy James, Cory Michael Smith and Kris Swanberg.
Based on the biography written by James R. Hansen, ‘First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong’, First Man allows the spectacular phenomenon of man landing on the moon to speak for itself.
Oscillating – yep, it gets technical which is the main reason I enjoyed the film – between the drama of Armstrong’s family life and his courage to risk everything, this is a quiet film punctuated by nail-biting suspense.
It would have been easy to over-dramatise the achievement of America being the first to step foot on alien ground, instead, director Damien Chazelle (La La Land (2016), Whiplash (2013)) focuses more on the man: his sacrifice, strength and will to achieve what the American government so desperately wants to achieve before the Russians.
Ryan Gosling as Armstrong holds up the helmet well as the family man and as the brave, cautious and deliberate pilot navigating rockets, that are really bombs, set off while strapped inside what looks like a tin can.
The absurdity and risks are shown with lines like the technician buckling Dave Scott (Christopher Abbott) (one of the Gemini Program pilot’s) in for the test run of rocketing Gemini 8 through the atmosphere to see if it’s possible to dock one craft to another in space asking, ‘Anybody got a Swiss army knife handy?’
‘You’re kidding?!’ Dave says as the final adjustments are made.
First Man is about the years it took to accomplish the impossible, opening in 1961 with Neil beyond the atmosphere, testing the ability to cut through and be able to fall back to Earth – and the love of his wife Janet (Claire Foy), son (Gavin Warren / Luke Winters) and the devastating loss of his young daughter, Karen (Lucy Stafford).
This is a drama, the frailty of humanity given as much weight as the courage required to realise one of man’s greatest achievements.
When interviewed to join the Apollo team, Armstrong’s told by one interviewer that he’s sorry for the loss of his daughter.
To which he replies, ‘I’m sorry, is there a question?’
And he’s asked whether the loss has any effect on his wanting to join the Apollo mission.
‘It would be unreasonable to assume it wouldn’t have an effect.’
This statement sums up the movie for me – a quietly suspenseful and direct depiction of what it took and the motivation to drive someone to take such risks without unnecessary fanfare making the telling more gripping.
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