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First Man- Film Review

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I love the moment the lights dim, the curtain widens and the movie starts. Going to the cinema is one of life's great activities and should be enjoyed as much as possible. https://fifty2ndstreet.wixsite.com/beardedreviews
Published October 20th 2018
A shaky cam journey to the moon through one mans struggle
(Image courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The word unglamorous came to mind as I was leaving the cinema having watched First Man. Most films about space and the moon that come out of Hollywood are big spectacles that hit with a bang or deliver edge of your seat suspense. Normally, science is forgotten, and astronauts are presented as tough, wise cracking he-men. First Man, however, doesn't strive to be a Hollywood fanfare, preferring to go down a more realistic route, delivering a film that may struggle to find an audience in the popcorn selling industry.

First Man brings the story of Neil Armstrong to the screen and chronicles America's journey to the Sea of Tranquillity in the process. It is directed by Damien Chazelle, famous for the brilliant Whiplash, and the slightly over-rated La La Land. Ryan Gosling gives a restrained and unglamorous performance as Neil Armstrong. He is supported by a Claire Foy (best known for The Crown), Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Ciaran Hinds (of Game of Thrones fame, or less known as Steppenwolf in 2017s Justice League) and Corey Stoll (House of Cards) as Buzz Aldrin.

Armstrong is presented as a man of few words, very low key and humble. He hides much of his emotions, refusing to deal outwardly with the tragedies that befall him along the way. In some ways, this is the heart of the problem with the film, as it's hard to get engrossed in a character study of a man who doesn't reveal a lot of character. The film delivers much of what you'd expect, and does so in a very competent way. The film ticks many boxes and brings plenty of good moments. However, for a movie about the first man to walk on the moon, it doesn't quite land on its feet.

That's not to say it's a bad film, or boring at all. However, in addition to Armstrong (and the other astronauts) being presented as tough but emotionally restrained men, the film also delivers much of its more sellable assets, such as the space trips, in a very matter of fact way. Realism is delivered, but 1960s Cold War realism doesn't necessarily inspire a lot of popcorn eating.

Director Damien Chazelle makes a few stylistic choices that I found made some of the film difficult to watch. Many of scenes of characters talking are framed very close to their face. It was quite odd choice to have the focus so close to the characters at times when it didn't feel necessary. The overuse of shaky cam was also very distracting to the story. When rockets are shaking and lives are in danger, then the shaky cam makes sense. However, during the character moments, where characters are just talking, we don't need movement on the screen.

The films narrative isn't always clear either, and people with little prior knowledge of the space program may not quite understand everything that is going on. The structure of the plot also lacks a sense of building towards the moon landing, so when we do finally launch in 1969, the story doesn't truly feel as though it has built to this moment.

That said, the film does have a number of great highlights that make it worth the trip to the cinema. All the performances are very good, with Gosling clearly well preparred to accurately portray Armstrong and Foy providing the more emotional moments as the wife who's lived through a lot and gives more support than she gets in return. The realism of how the space program was presented is refreshing. Machinery is grotty, practical and not glamourized to suit Hollywood. The film has a grainy quality to it that makes it feel old and gives everything in the 1960s a more lived in feel to it, as opposed to feeling like pop- art. Usually the 1960s is presented very colourfully in films, as if everything was brand new.

The film does a great job of showing you how brave these guys were, as they were literally going into the most dangerous environments inside of a tin can with little idea if they would be safe or not. The moon landing is recreated exceptionally well, and again, realism is front and centre. When they open the hatch, the air is sucked out and everything goes quiet. There is no swelling of orchestral strings. No big fanfare as they descend the ladder. Whilst the moon is an amazing place to go, it is also a lifeless rock, and the real beauty of the moon's surface is allowed to shine through.

The film doesn't oversell its message. It presents the moon through the eyes of those going there. It doesn't overstate it, but it doesn't undersell it either. This was an amazing achievement in human history, but in the over scheme of life, it's just an achievement that allowed us to reach for a goal, achieve it, and then move on with life.

First Man won't break any box office records. Some people will see it and dislike it because it doesn't crash and bang its way to the moon with edge of your seat excitement (in which the trailer tries to imply it does). But it's a worthy use of your time and should be viewed on the big screen.

Those, like myself, who suffer motion sickness in movies beware. This film is very shaky and you may have to look away at many moments of the film to relieve your eyes. However, it was surprisingly not as bad as some other films I've seen in recent times.

First Man is now showing in all cinemas.



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