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I knew from the moment I saw the first trailer that I would enjoy First Man, a film based on First Man: the Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen. Even knowing this, I was still blown away by what director Damien Chazelle created. I have to preface this by saying that this is, to my knowledge, the first film I ever watched on an IMAX screen. Being used to a regular movie screen, it took me a little while to adjust to having so much more to look a. But by the end of the film, I have to say, IMAX format is definitely the way to go with this film if you have that option.
First Man covers an 8 year period from 1961 all the way through the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. It tells the story of how Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), went from being a test pilot and an engineer to a member of the astronaut corps working in the Gemini and Apollo missions, all while trying to balance a life with his wife Janet (Claire Foy) and children. If I had to compare this film to earlier works, I would say it’s a cross between The Right Stuff, Apollo 13 and Interstellar (several shots in First Man seem to be influenced by this last film). However, don’t let my allusion to Apollo 13 fool you; First Man is nothing like the Ron Howard epic. There is no sweeping score, no lush strings, in fact a lot of the film has no music at all. Far from being a negative, the relative lack of music in many scenes makes you appreciate the music all the more when it does appear.
Damien Chazelle does an amazing job showing the audience just how dangerous these missions really were. I noted that Gus Grissom (Shea Wigham), Ed White (Jason Clarke) and Roger Chaffee (Cory Michael Smith) (the crew of Apollo 1) were introduced early on, to let the audience build a connection with them (and see how Neil and his family were connected with them too, as the White’s were neighbors). I’ve read obsessively about NASA for years, so I had an idea of how the Apollo 1 testing scene would go and it delivered beyond all expectations. One detail I appreciated is Chazelle makes a point to show every single lock that is turned to seal the astronauts inside the capsule, foreshadowing one of many elements that leads to the crew’s horrific fate.
By far, my favorite scene in the film has to be the Moon landing, including the descent to the lunar surface and what came afterward. I really feel that composer Justin Hurwitz was channeling Hans Zimmer’s work on Interstellar (“No Time for Caution” came to mind) during the descent. Even though you know that the crew is going to make it and come back safely, there’s still a believable tension present that has you on the edge of your seat. And as for that moment on the Moon (you know the one I mean), I’d like to think that Neil did do something like that. I will admit the ending of the film caught me off guard, but the more I thought about it on my way home, the more it made sense.
The Gemini 8 scene caught me off guard because I didn’t know about the incident. If you get motion sick easily, be forewarned, you might find this scene difficult to watch.
I really liked how film shows Neil’s POV in several scenes, it really puts you in that moment.
One trailer shows a scene where Neil’s house is on fire (a real life incident), but this scene does not appear in the film. Given how long the film is, it’s safe to say this scene was cut for time.
Claire Foy turns in a great performance as Janet Armstrong. There are many scenes where she doesn’t say a lot, but you can see the tension building up inside her until it finally bursts out in spectacular fashion.
First Man is definitely a must-see film and I think it’s bound to pick up multiple awards in the coming months. Let me know what you think about First Man in the comments below and have a great day!
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