First Man passes the test with flying colours

Sam GibbsSouth Western Times
Ryan Gosling gives a stoic and layered performance as Neil Armstrong in the biographical drama First Man.
Camera IconRyan Gosling gives a stoic and layered performance as Neil Armstrong in the biographical drama First Man. Credit: AP

From the opening sequence of Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) strapped into a screaming rocket plane, First Man does an incredible job of dropping viewers into the pilot’s seat of one the greatest human achievements in history.

Most audiences should be familiar with the ending of this story, which means a deft hand is required to keep eyes glued to the screen in the face of such a monumental spoiler.

Director Damien Chazelle (La La Land, Whiplash) passes this test with flying colours, providing enough excitement, drama and lesser-known facts to keep you waiting for that iconic first step.

The side stories involved in the eight-year-long build up to the Apollo 11 flight were inspiring and tragic – I felt ashamed for not knowing the scope of just how many people died to put a man on the moon.

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This tragedy weighs heavy on our titular hero as Gosling peppers his stoic performance with just enough cracks of emotion.

A perfect example of this comes from an awkward discussion between Armstrong and his young children where he speaks as if he were giving a mission briefing.

Claire Foy adds the most emotional flavour to the Armstrong household as Neil’s wife Janet, providing an excellent contrast to the unavailable protagonist.

Director Chazelle often injects scenes of Foy anxiously awaiting the news of her husband’s safe return, or death, but at times I felt impatient to get back to the real action of the moment.

And that’s where this film truly takes flight – the set pieces are spectacular, particularly when the movie makes a notable jump from 32mm film into glorious IMAX format.

Metal screeches and screws shake loose to show the truly experimental nature of these crafts. The claustrophobic camera work sells the feeling of helplessness of being strapped on top of 2.8 million kilograms of shrapnel and liquid explosives.

Despite how you feel about the choice to omit the famous planting of the US flag, First Man is a well-crafted celebration of human resilience.

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