La La Land director Damien Chazelle reunites with Ryan Gosling for this Neil Armstrong biopic that is at once understated and awe-inspiring. Chazelle and his cast immerse the audience in the tensions and passions at play, as a humble, reserved engineer rockets all the way from grief-stricken test pilot to becoming the very first person to walk on the moon.
Based on a 2005 biography of Armstrong, First Man follows its protagonist’s journey to the moon, in a character study spanning eight years. Despite the universal understanding of the Apollo mission, the film still manages to confound expectations in breathtaking fashion.
Cinematographer Linus Sandgren executes dramatic scenery with aplomb. Space scenes can easily go wrong and look dispiritingly computerised. However, as the movie approaches its climax, the lunar landing itself provides the audience with one of the finest sequences of cinematography to bless the space exploration genre – a true joy if experienced in IMAX.
The deployment of CGI is limited, à la Interstellar. But whereas one could get lost in the otherworldliness of Christopher Nolan’s terraforming spectacular, First Man’s depth is found in its characters, in spite of the extraordinary settings. The film may centre on something otherworldly, but its drive is intensely human.
Gosling displays a scintilla of emotion, coming in spikes of anguish as Armstrong is haunted by the loss of his daughter. A single teardrop rolls down his cheek at the thought of her, while a clenched fist greets fresh losses. It’s a subtle, sublime portrayal of a famously reticent man. Claire Foy (of Netflix’s The Crown fame), meanwhile, excels as the astronaut’s pained, devoted wife Janet. Providing the evocatively impassioned foil to Gosling’s often stoic Armstrong.
First Man is a stunning film and a refreshingly brave voyage. Far from being just a detailing of the first successful lunar odyssey, this is a deeply emotional journey. Whereas other movies covering the same topic may plumb for a trite retelling of events, Chazelle wants us to know the story behind that first man on the moon, and what drove him – besides a rocket – to that summit of human ability.
First Man is released nationwide and at IMAX cinemas on 12th October 2018. Book your IMAX tickets here.
Watch the trailer for First Man here: