In 1960’s America Nasa is losing the space race to Russia. In order to regain the initiative, they decide to gamble on a hugely risky mission: be the first to land on the the moon. In selecting its would-be astronauts, civilian test pilot Neil Armstrong immediately stands out. Cool under pressure, almost to the point of detachment, he seems to have the right stuff. However as the race to the moon takes its toll on more than just machinery, Armstrong and the other pilots will be tested in ways they could never imagine.
...leaves you in no doubt as to the dangers America’s first astronauts faced.
Director Damien Chazelle’s ‘First Man’ is a historical biopic which is completely focussed on period detail. With its grainy, desaturated colour palette and sixties stylings, this is a drama that is rooted in authenticity. However the most discernible difference of this space race drama compared to others is the sound. From its very beginning ’First Man’s’ sound track leaves you in no doubt as the dangers America’s first astronauts faced. From its creaking cockpits, melting canopies and twisting fuselages, the soundtrack ’First Man’ regularly soaks you in the danger and risks these pioneers took – and the decompressing effect of normal life afterwards.
In its lead role as astronaut Neil Armstrong, Ryan Gosling gives another great, buttoned-down performance to that of his agent K from ‘BladeRunner 2049’. Around him, Gosling is surrounded by equally solid performances from Kyle Chandler and the ever-reliable Ciaran Hinds. However it is in the casting of Claire Foy that ‘First Man’ really nearly becomes ‘First Woman’. With her lacerating glare and finger-gnawing resentments, Claire Foy’s portrayal as Janet Shearon (Armstrong’s first wife) is the stuff of best supporting actress nominations. Whilst her character may not occupy the majority of scenes (or the film’s primary point of view), every scene she appears in, is hers.
Fans of similarly space-bound histories like ‘Apollo 13’ and ‘The Right Stuff’, will find much to enjoy here in terms of gruff determination and scientific ingenuity to fix every problem. Indeed, with a 2 hours and 21 minute running time, this is movie that doesn’t want to skip over any details. Whilst some of its later scenes feel a little rushed in comparison with the film’s earlier build-up, ‘First Man’ is a well-made movie trying to find a balance between history and drama. When its end comes, it comes a on quiet note. Hinting at a demanding world beyond his crew’s decontamination room, ‘First Man’ almost begs a sequel or at the very least a longer edition that covers Armstrong’s later handling of celebrity.
For an entertaining spectacle that does a great job at conveying the dangers of early space flight, ‘First Man’ is a film (like Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk) that has to be seen in IMAX. From its rumbling bass that shakes up from the floor to the huge screen that encompasses Armstrong’s towering rocket, ‘First Man’ is a drama that will fly you to the moon.1