Movie Review: First Man

By Maria Lubanovic, Copy Editor
[Universal; 2018]
Rating: 7/10

The space movie is a genre of its own. Historical drama, beautiful orchestral music, eye-popping visuals and male bravery are all common themes in many of the space films of the past. Apollo 13 may come to mind, or The Right Stuff. First Man, directed by Damien Chazelle and starring Ryan Gosling, flexes on some of these tropes and outright destroys others.

Read More: Movie Review: Hidden Figures

First Man follows Neil Armstrong’s life from his daughter’s death in 1961 until after the moon landing that made him famous in July of 1969. The film shows not only the space mission to the moon, but many of the other missions and tests that lead up to it. These scenes are integral for viewers to understand the difficulty and the emotional nature of these missions.

Gosling performs well enough as Neil Armstrong, but it is Claire Foy’s performance as his wife, Janet, that brings a level of power and emotional strength to a story that has previously been told without it. Foy keeps the film grounded in reality as she asks Gosling to be honest with her and her sons about the danger of the mission and the possibility that he may never come back. It’s one of the most emotionally-crushing scenes, but it’s integral to the story. She even has moments where she almost wordlessly communicates with other wives in the neighborhood who have lost their husbands to space travel.

As touching as these scenes are, the real juggernauts in First Man are the space sequences. Frankly, they look better than pretty much every other space movie ever made, as they are both visually-stunning and accurate. Many other space films use beautiful orchestral music to try and highlight the sheer size and glory of space, but directors forget one thing. Space is completely silent. First Man uses this knowledge to an advantage, letting scenes on the moon and in orbit be totally void of music. The effect makes you want to hold your breath.

First Man gets another thing right that not all space movies do, except for Apollo 13. Space is horrifying, cold and dangerous. Flight sequences in First Man are shaky, loud and honestly a little hard to watch as the camera shakes around with the astronauts. It gives the audience a better idea of the fear that the astronauts would be feeling and makes Armstrong more impressive as he keeps a level head through the film. Even the training scenes, though funny, keep this same tone of intimidation. It shows us that it takes a ridiculously special person to be able to get through training, let alone land on the moon.

However, this is not a movie for people who don’t like space movies or historical films. Some of the sequences are just too long, which is a Damien Chazelle directorial issue. The film clocks in at two hours and 21 minutes, which is massive for most moviegoers. It’s worth watching, especially if the interest is there, but it’s not really groundbreaking. See it so you can feel like you’re on the moon too.

Watch the trailer here:

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