25 September 2023

First Man

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Reviewed by Victor Rebikoff.

Director: Damien Chazelle, Universal Pictures, M 141 Minutes.

The epic story of the first man to walk on the moon is spectacularly brought to the big screen by ‘La La Land’ director Damien Chazelle in his drama-filled biopic of Neil Armstrong based on James Hansen’s official biography.

In view of the vastness of the production, Chazelle chose to cover the pivotal period of Armstrong’s life from 1961 to 1969 during the Cold War rivalry between the USA and USSR in their aim to be the first to reach the moon.

Despite a dramatic opening in which test pilot Armstrong (Ryan Gosling –‘Blade Runner 2049’) just manages to escape from an experimental aircraft he and his wife Janet (Claire Foy –‘Breathe’) then have to confront the situation facing his terminally-ill daughter Karen.

His daughter’s loss profoundly impacts on his emotional demeanor, even after he joins the Gemini space project in 1961 together with close friend Ed White (Aussie actor Jason Clarke –‘Chappaquiddick’) and spearheaded by NASA’s Deke Slayton (Kyle Chandler –‘Sidney Hall’).

It is during the Gemini space program that Armstrong accepts command of Gemini 8 in 1966, only to see his best friend Ed lose his life in 1967 following an unexpected malfunction of the first manned Apollo mission.

In November 1967 Slayton announces the crew for the Apollo mission to the moon (for launch in July 1969) selecting Armstrong as mission commander as well as Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll –‘Café Society’) and Mike Collins (Lukas Haas -‘The Revenant’).

As Armstrong prepares to leave for the launch site a unique insight is provided into the personal relationship with his wife Janet and son Rick as they discuss the possibility of their husband/father not returning.

When the time comes to land on the moon on 20 July 1969 it is the emotionless but soft-spoken Armstrong speaking those memorable words that resonated around the world-“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Considering this is the first film on the life of the famous astronaut, Chazelle has crafted an enthralling epic intertwining his complex family situation with his ambition for space exploration that ultimately led to his historic space mission.

It is to Chazelle’s credit for teaming up again with Gosling who delivers an impressive portrayal of Armstrong’s character, not to mention Fay’s performance as Janet.

In many respects ‘First Man’ is an cinematic masterpiece with stunning visuals corresponding to those seen in ‘Gravity’ which also peels away the myth behind the man.

Of greater significance is Chazelle’s personal tribute to Neil Armstrong himself and his extraordinary achievement in being the first man to walk on the moon.

Vic’s Verdict: 4 Stars

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