The story of Neil Armstrong has never been told in a way such as that presented to us by Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle in the incredibly touching and emotional First Man.
Centering more on Armstrong the man, rather than the mission itself, Chazelle along with screenwriter Josh Singer have brought his sublime and humane life to light. Everybody knows the Apollo 11 mission, and most people you ask could recite the words spoken by Armstrong as he set foot on the moon (becoming not only an American hero but a hero for humanity and an ambassador of the dreams of many), but very few know what went on inside his head or behind closed doors in his personal life. That, and much more, is revealed in devastatingly visceral fashion in this meticulously crafted film.
In front of the cameras, Neil was always smiling, brimming with confidence and charisma, but that was all for show as his story is so much more tragic. Armstrong (played by the brilliant Ryan Gosling) was a reserved man who never wanted the fame all to himself. After going through the heartbreaking loss of his daughter, Neil and wife Janet (portrayed by the ever amazing Claire Foy) wanted a quiet life but never quite achieved that once the 1969 moon landing was successful. Gosling was the perfect choice to play such a private, self-contained individual as he depicts these traits down to the smallest detail - just looking at his eyes, they ooze pain and anguish while the rest of his face tells an entirely different story. Armstrong never saw himself as a hero, he was just a man doing his job and was grateful for the opportunity and everyone who helped him along the way.
First Man manages to never overstay its welcome during its 140 minutes. Each scene is flawlessly executed and plays an important part in conveying Neil’s story. The majority of the film occurs in one of two places - the cockpit of a plane or spacecraft, or the Armstrong’s kitchen - which was entirely the plan that Chazelle had in order to show the two ends of the radically different spectrum of Neil’s day to day life. Adapted from James R. Hansen’s novel, each detail is as close as possible to fact. Chazelle’s choice in having a first person perspective throughout the film allows the audience to really get into Neil’s headspace connecting them on an unprecedented emotional level.
A vast majority of the film was filmed on location using real technology (some of which came from NASA directly, who spent a lot of time helping the authenticity of the film) which again adds realism and grounds (for want of a better term) what the audience is experiencing. Filming techniques such as LED screens rather than CGI help to immerse the cast in the world, and in turn elevate the storytelling to uncharted heights. Justin Hurwitz’s subtle yet powerful score adds a whole extra contextual level, proving that Hurwitz and Chazelle collaborations continue to be out of this world.
One breathtaking scene in particular (which you can probably guess) was filmed entirely using IMAX cameras, enhancing the pure scope and magnitude of that pivotal scene. Even with its debatable historical accuracy, this particular moment is truly unforgettable.
From the very first second, Neil’s story is brought to life in such a way that not only inspire you to be your best self, but will also educate you in a way you have perhaps never experienced before. Pitch perfect performances, stellar effects (both practical and CGI), and with riveting storytelling - First Man is a story that you don't want to miss and will never forget.
A perfect package for a perfect film. Breathtaking in every sense of the word. Add it to your collection, you will not be disappointed!
Shooting for the Moon - interview with Damien Chazelle, Preparing to Launch - cast interviews, Giant Leap in One Small Step - a behind the scenes look at the life of Neil Armstrong, Mission Gone Wrong - a look at the stunts performed in the Lunar Landing Craft test scene, Putting You in the Seat - a technology-based behind the scenes, Recreating the Moon Landing, Shooting at NASA,
Astronaut Training, Feature length commentary with director Damien Chazelle, screenwriter Josh Singer and editor Tom Cross, Deleted scenes
FIRST MAN / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: DAMIEN CHAZELLE / SCREENPLAY: JOSH SINGER / STARRING: RYAN GOSLING, CLAIRE FOY, JASON CLARKE / RELEASE DATE: 18TH FEBRUARY