First Man (2018) – Movie Review

First Man is a biographical drama film directed by Damien Chazelle and written by Josh Singer. The film is based on the book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen, and it stars Ryan Gosling as a lead character Neil Armstrong (The first man to walk on the moon). It is the second time when Damien Chazelle and Ryan Gosling are teaming up, after working together on Academy Award-winning film La La Land (2016). Plus, Steven Spielberg has served as an executive producer on this film.

The film spans across 8 years from 1961 to the legendary Apollo 11 mission to the Moon in 1969. At the core, the film depicts the emotional ups and downs in Neil Armstrong’s life in that specific time span. The film starts in 1961 when Neil Armstrong is flying the X-15 rocket plane working as a test pilot for NASA. At the same time, his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Karen, is undergoing treatment for a brain tumor. Neil is desperate to find the possible treatments to save her, but she dies soon afterward, which throws Neil in a lifelong grief. Soon after that, Neil applies for the Project Gemini of NASA, and get selected for the same, wherein 1965 he completes the extravehicular activity in the Gemini 8 mission. In 1968, after nearly being killed while ejecting from the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle, Armstrong is selected to command Apollo 11, which will likely be the first lunar landing mission.

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For the whole world, Apollo 11 mission was the giant leap of mankind towards space exploration. And for the American government, it was just another great mission to stay ahead of Soviets and the whole other world in a race. But this movie goes beyond that and explores the different emotional states of astronauts, their families and personal lives, the accidental deaths of astronauts, the government strategies, and people asking questions to the government about why to spend so much money and sacrifice lives and is it really worth it.

I watched this in IMAX format, and after a few shots, I noticed the grainy effect throughout its runtime. This particular film-format is intentionally chosen by the director and the cinematographer to make the audience feel that they’re actually watching the film of that time. Most of the film was shot in 16mm and 35mm film format, except for the breathtaking moon landing sequence which was shot on IMAX 70mm film. The background score of the film by Academy Award winner Justine Herwitz is very much effective and unsettling in some moments. All the shots, where the astronauts are in a cockpit of a spaceship in space, are noisy with shaky cams, which gives thrilling and real effect in a really good way.

Ryan Gosling does a really good job of portraying the legendary Neil Armstrong of very robotic, focused, and calculative nature. And Claire Foy as Janet Armstrong also delivers a flawless emotionally heavy performance. As the film is spanned across eight years, and that too in a running time of 141 minutes, it feels choppy and truncated. But above all, the moon landing sequence at the end gives the satisfaction.

Verdict : Worth to watch this compelling and fascinating biographical story of ‘The first man to walk on the moon’.

Rating : 3.9/5

Check trailer here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSoRx87OO6k

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