First Man is a 2018 American biographical drama film directed by Damien Chazelle and is based on the book ‘First Man; The Life of Neil A. Armstrong’. Starring Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, the plot follows the various events that characterized the Apollo program; a set of space missions backed by the U.S government with the end goal being landing on the moon.
Acting & character performances.
Neil Alden Armstrong is a man who needs no introduction. It’s safe to say that he’s in the same league as Muhammad Ali, the Wright brothers, Martin Luther King and Albert Einstein as a personality who shaped the course of the 20th Century. Most of us only know about his incredible ‘first man on the moon’ fete but do we know what really happened behind the scenes with this spaceman? What he went through leading up to his history-making milestone? Well, worry no more because actor extra-ordinaire Ryan Gosling is here to answer all that in his new role and quite frankly, he knocks it off the park.
Through his performance, you could tell that he put a great deal of work and research into playing Armstrong and I loved it. Whether it was bringing out this man who has a great fascination in space exploration or a person who is generally good in hiding his pain and anger or even an individual who is driven and determined on achieving the impossible; these are all facets of the character that I would have wanted to have seen and I’m glad I eventually did.
I was invested in the nature of the journey that the character took throughout the whole narrative. It’s a journey that rocks him both physically with the training he had to undergo to make him an elite astronaut as well as emotionally with the various unfortunate events that unfold around him. If there is one thing that I definitively took away from Gosling as this character is the strength and resilience he had in the face of strife; how someone can rise above it all and overcome whatever challenges life throws at them.
Even though she isn’t as prominent and doesn’t have as much screen-time, Claire Foy in this film as Armstrong’s wife Janet Shearon was just as good. I am not sure whether this is the true reflection of how Janet was in real life nonetheless, the reactions, the dialogue and the facial expressions that Claire brought out felt very genuine and relatable.
She is a wife who is trying as much as she can to make the most out of a hot and cold relationship with her husband while also trying to be the best mother she can be and all this, as you would expect, goes on to extract a heavy toll on her. For a while in the movie, Janet struck me as someone who likes to keep her problems to herself and thus seeing her opening up to Olivia Hamilton’s character who also knows what it feels like to be an astronaut’s wife spoke volumes about how intent she was to find a conduit to channel her emotions which, again, had a relatability to it.
Gosling co-stars in Kyle Chandler, Pablo Schreiber and Corey Stoll were also good in their roles. Kyle plays Deke Slayton, NASA’s Chief of The Astronauts Office; despite his position and the stakes at play in the movie, Deke has a very rational side that is mindful of the welfare of the astronauts especially Neil considering how flawed the latter is for a better part of the movie. Corey Stoll plays the character of Buzz Aldrin, Armstrong’s right hand man in the lunar mission and for the most part, he’s okay; he didn’t have many faults that I could pinpoint straight away except maybe for the inappropriate nature of his humour.
The Plot, Merits and Demerits.
For a better part of my life, I have always been interested in History; it’s actually the one class I had never failed in. My interest in astronomy however, is something that came much later and thus seeing a movie such as this merge both my interests the way it did was simply awesome. A dream come true some would say. As far as the plot is concerned, I am glad it not only focused on the side of Armstrong’s life that many people never knew about but also highlighted the intricacies of the famous ‘Space Race’ between the U.S and Russia that dominated the airwaves for a better part of the 60’s.
From NASA’s perspective, the Apollo program was their best shot at putting the lid on the Russian space supremacy and stomping their ground as the best Aeronautics division that mankind has ever seen; their ambition is very evident in how much money they pump into it as well as the rigorous training they make Neil and his astronaut buddies go through. The organization simply does not want this program to fail. The intensity of the said ambition ends up diffusing to the astronauts eventually to a point where that’s all they eat, sleep and breathe if you know what I mean; something that we see prominently in Gosling’s character. Much like Claire Foy and Olivia Hamilton’s character, a strong comradery is also forged between the astronauts that sees them occasionally break bread together and have some fun; this for me was a good aspect of the narrative because it teaches the audience member on the importance of finding peace in a harsh life.
*I liked the theme of sacrifice that is the most prevalent in this film i.e the extent that these astronauts are willing to go to be part of a greater cause. *Moreover, I was captivated by the intrapersonal conflict that takes centre stage in the story through Armstrong; it begged the question of whether he had the emotional stability to take it to space when his personal life has been rocked so hard. *The production design is stellar; there is a lot detail that goes into making a 60’s movie and this film is flawless in that sector without doubt except for one area which I will talk about later on.
*The sounds felt so inclusive i.e the burning of jet fuel and the trembling of the space vehicles during lift-off. I also loved how the score shifted from frightening to soothing depending on the tone of the scenes where they are employed. *The cinematography is amazing; impressive camera techniques are used in the film most notably in the opening sequence as well as the several close-up shots of Armstrong as he sets his sights on the moon.
I only have two issues with this film. Some of the time jumps felt a bit needless. Finally, the stock footage used did not gel well with the narrative; I don’t know about you but it felt somewhat detached from the story to an extent that I wished they went for real actors to play those scenes out. I think that’s about it; everything else was okay to me.
As I keep on emphasizing on this platform, story is the key element in any motion-picture and it’s no secret that First Man had exactly that and so much more. Yes, it might be based off a true story notwithstanding, I would still like this movie even if it was based off anyone other than Neil Alden Armstrong himself and I hope it gets the successful cinematic run it deserves.