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First Man (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 5, 2020

First Man

FIRST MAN (2018)

Starring Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Pablo Schreiber, Christopher Abbott, Ciarán Hinds, Ethan Embry, Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, Corey Stoll, Patrick Fugit, Shea Whigham, Lukas Haas, Cory Michael Smith, Brian d’Arcy James, Brady Smith, Philip Boyd, Olivia Hamilton, Pablo Schreiber, Shea Whigham, Ethan Embry and Kris Swanberg.

Screenplay by Josh Singer.

Directed by Damien Chazelle.

Distributed by Universal Pictures. 138 minutes. Rated PG-13.

I’ve NEVER heard an audience so quiet in my life. Not a wrapper, not a cough, not a bit of popcorn. Every now and then an occasional laugh.

First Man chronicles Neil Armstrong: husband, father and engineer turned test pilot and then astronaut who became the first man to step onto the moon’s surface. Beyond his historic status he is not a man who has spent much time in the public eye. Armstrong’s life experiences and stoic demeanor give us a complex and intense character – a far cry from the better-known John Glenn and Buzz Aldrin images.

The film opens with Armstrong as a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base in the midst of a flight to the tip of Earth’s atmosphere (and in a super-tense few moments, bouncing off the atmosphere in what could have been a catastrophic turn if not for his quick thinking).

Now those were crazy times… men in jets breaking the sound barrier, reaching the utmost heights of Earth’s atmosphere, experiencing all of the stresses of flight. And they paid the price. In one year, Armstrong lost four friends in accidents. Four funerals of his comrades.

In that same time frame, Armstrong survived through a funeral for his far-too-young daughter, Karen, who last her battle with brain stem cancer at only three years old after suffering through radiation treatment. First Man implies that this was an event that affected Armstrong (and his family) for the rest of his life and adds a layer of complexity to an already tense time.

As a tribute to his work ethic and a sign of emotional trauma, Armstrong returned to work the next day. He found out that he is as good as grounded, with his management waiting on the report from his near bounce out of earth’s atmosphere.

So, he decided to put in his application for the astronaut program. He was, of course, accepted into the program. Armstrong took this as a chance for a fresh start. They moved from California to an astronaut neighborhood outside of Houston, Texas, where astronauts and their families live comfortable lives surrounded by one another, offering friendship and support in a career that is full of risk.

Armstrong was not an easy person and his communication is played as very closed off – with his coworkers and his family. Ryan Gosling captures the stoicism of Armstrong through it all, with rare, compelling moments of warmth and family joy.

Claire Foy plays Janet Armstrong in a powerful performance – a woman who admittedly married looking for stability and received anything but. She stood by her husband through the tragedies of the space program and their family, with little communication from her partner.  She is the rock of her family and the heart of First Man.

The chronicling of the US Space Program as it races against the Russian Space Program in the 1960s is not a new thing. It is one of the more magical stories of our American history that inspires us as a country. We’ve seen it played out in Apollo 13, The Right Stuff, and Hidden Figures. First Man feels heavier with its focus on Armstrong. What makes it so special is its look and feel.

First Man is beautiful. The bulk of the film looks and feels like I am looking through my grandma’s old photo album. Colors are muted, and it adds to the overall aesthetic. Although my screening was in a regular theater, I could see where this would be a film that you would want to splurge on an IMAX viewing – particularly for the moon scenes.

The score is bubbly and subtle throughout, until it lands its punch in true symphonic splendor, with killer snare in the moon scene. It is only made more powerful by the surrounding silence both on screen and from the captivated audience.

I hope that everyone is able to experience this film with actively quiet spectators to add to this already dramatic film.

Bonnie Paul

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: October 12, 2018.

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