A look at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
Review by Louise Keller:
When Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is asked what space exploration means to him, he replies it has changed his perspective, explaining how it allows us to see things differently. In the same way, Damien Chazelle's immersive film about the first moon landing on July 20, 1969 alters our perceptions of the events by allowing us to change our perspective. The film is evocative, spectacular and affecting. It's like being there: locked in a confined space, when the intensity of the vibrations reaches unimaginable levels and the vast unknown is mirrored beyond the earth's rim. I sat on the edge of my seat throughout this superb film, thoroughly engaged, inspired and moved.
Based on J. R. Hansen's book, Chazelle's film combines all the drama of his debut Whiplash (2014) and the ethereal beauty of La La Land (2016). Chazelle has made this monumental historic event into a marvellous film, replete with emotions and whose light and shade aptly depict the turbulence of the rollercoaster ride. While much of the action takes place beyond this world, the film's emotional ballast is firmly grounded by emotions and relationship that are of this world.
Gosling excels as the heroic Armstrong, a man driven and who performs under pressure. His contained and internalised performance is a tour de force. He has range. His performance is from the inside out. Watch for the scene when Armstrong's wife Janet (Claire Foy, exceptional) lays down a gut-wrenching ultimatum for her husband to talk to their two young boys before he leaves for the historic Apollo 13 moon flight. It is unforgettable. There was a lump in my throat as one of the boys asks his father: 'Do you think you're coming back?' We have already seen and felt the impact of the devastating loss of their young daughter from cancer. She was clearly Daddy's Girl. There have also been a string of funerals of colleagues following mission mishaps.
We become involved in NASA politics, the space race with the Russians and the intricate relationships between the astronauts ('the sailors of the sky'). The handpicked cast includes Jason Clarke (Chappaquiddick), Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous), Corey Stoll (The Seagull) and Kyle Chandler (Manchester by the Sea). They are all excellent. We get a sense of the environment. The times. The reality.
The elusive moon is never far from view - seen from Earth or during the much anticipated, monumental moon landing, when the first steps are taken on the fine grained, sandy monotonic surface ('One small step for man...'). These scenes do not disappoint.
We are there when things go wrong and when things go right. We walk in Armstrong's shoes and see through his eyes, often cinematically highlighted in effective close ups. Justin Hurwitz's music score is wonderfully lyrical and dramatic, showcased through its melodic theme and magnified by a big orchestration, when appropriate. Watch for the scene in which we hear the tune, 'I See the Moon'. It's a hero's story. A human story. A film worth seeing. It blew me away.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It takes 2 hours to get to the moon in Damien Chazelle's film, and the place is deserted and dreary. Grey deserted... but then it is the journey that matters, both from a scientific perspective and from the personal perspective of the late Neil Armstrong, portrayed as a stoic sort of guy, quite accurately I gather, by the elastic actor Ryan Gosling. Gosling can do naive but interesting as in Lars and the Real Girl (2007) as well as tough cookie as in Drive (2011) - and everything in between.
Without Gosling's performance (and Claire Foy's warm and touching one as his wife Janet) and without a screenplay that balanced the intimate & moving with the extra terrestrial bits, the film would just be a clever re-enactment, a theme park ride, using today's high powered digital technology to make it a bloody good re-enactment. While I pick out Gosling and Foy, the film is actually a terrific ensemble piece, carefully and sensitively cast.
The story begins in the early 60s, skips through the early stages of the space race and sketches in the political stakes that drive the US to fly to the moon. For anyone unaware of these plot points, the film is a primer and should inspire more research. For those familiar with the history of both the politics and the space program, it is a neat reminder, and highly relevant in an age which takes it for granted that man can make a film the credible replicates the moon landing...
The one contentious aspect of the film in the US - prior to its release in Australia - has been the absence of footage recreating Armstrong planting the American flag on the surface of the moon. Before I saw the film I felt this was a silly, politically immature gesture, erasing from history a moment that is central to this story. On seeing the film, I have re-calibrated my view and accept Chazelle's explanation that it was omitted only to focus on its being man's achievement, personified by Armstrong. OK, I buy it now.
Superbly made, the film delivers a visceral sound and image experience, elaborated by a powerful score. See it on a big screen with good sound. It deserves it.
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FIRST MAN (G)
CAST: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Ciaran Hinds, Patrick Fugit, Kyle Chandler, Lukas Haas, Corey Stoll, Brian d'Arcy James
PRODUCER: Marty Bowen, Damien Chazelle, Wyck Godfrey, Isaac Klausner
DIRECTOR: Damien Chazelle
SCRIPT: Josh Singer (based on book by James R. Hansen)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Linus Sandgbren
EDITOR: Tom Cross
MUSIC: Justin Hurwitz
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Nathan Crowley
RUNNING TIME: 141 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 11, 2018