Small steps before a giant leap, First Man, delves into the life of astronaut Neil Armstrong and his journey to the Apollo 11 moon landing. Based on Armstrong’s biography, directed by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash and La La Land), starring Ryan Gosling (Armstrong) the film takes a realistic approach of Armstrong’s life from 1961 to 1969 while showing sides of the astronaut never before seen on the big screen.
Visually, the practical effects and CGI in the film are flawless and shot, like going to space without a spacesuit, in a breathtaking way. Throughout the film the backgrounds and set designs do not feel out of place for a movie set in the 1960s. The production crew set out to make the film as authentic as possible by speaking with NASA engineers to have a better idea on how the various aircraft and pilots would react upon liftoff, orbit and return. As a viewer I felt like I was in the aircraft with them the whole time. Chazelle gives the viewer the experience of feeling the fear the pilots are facing. There’s scenes where when Neil and his crew are in danger that the viewing experience also gets tense with it. However, the editing does feel off at times and it makes it harder to understand what is going on in the film. Those issues are few and far between so it’s not a huge crutch. The biggest editing issue was the film’s pacing. The pacing of the story is abruptly slow during the second act of the film and it felt like watching a turtle crawling through quicksand. There’s moments in the second act where plot points happen and then the film takes a break and it feels like we’re just watching people at work or just stare back at the viewer… for minutes. Clocking in at 2 hours and 20 minutes, sharper editing when it came to the plot would have greatly benefited the film.
The actors do the most with the script they were given, especially, with the dialogue. The best example of this is Claire Foy’s performance as Janet Shearon (Armstrong’s first wife). Never knowing if her husband is going to return from a mission and if her young sons are going to grow up without their father, Foy is compelling throughout the film. You can feel the pain in her voice and it adds another layer to the movie’s realism. She is paired with lead Ryan Gosling, and his performance as Neil Armstrong may be an Oscar contender later this year. Gosling does an accurate portrayal of Armstrong who was known to be humble and stoic. Armstrong suffers a tragedy early on and every day he lived with the grief from it. You can count on one hand how many times Armstrong smiles and he seems to meticulously process everything he sees in the world around him. Not only does he carry the grief from his personal tragedy but also from his friends and colleagues who perished in failed aerospace missions. There was an abundance of death around him for a movie that only takes place in an 8 year period.
The only time the viewer gets a few laughs is when Buzz Aldrin appears (played by Corey Stoll). Aldrin is Armstrong’s 180 degree opposite, more blunt, outspoken and some times says the wrong thing at the wrong time. There’s an interesting piece of dialogue between the two right after the death of 2 other pilots, Aldrin explains how they most likely died at their funeral, and Armstrong practically tells him to shut up because it’s not the appropriate place.
A scene that has gotten a few complaints is a montage shown over the sounds of “Whitey’s on the Moon”, a poem originally written by Gil Scott-Heron, but the film uses a cover by Leon Bridges during the montage:
The cover’s inclusion has upset a few, but the poem shows that there were other problems on Earth that could have been addressed during the space missions. This was a real issue that occurred, for the film to even dare to express this, instead of glossing over it to romanticize America’s achievement, adds another layer to the film’s authenticity. Some wanted more American propaganda and were disappointed that planting the American flag on the moon was omitted from the film. The moon landing wasn’t just an American accomplishment but it was also an accomplishment for humanity. An abundance of discoveries were made because of NASA and space exploration. The cultural icon the film is based on didn’t say it was small step or giant leap for America; however, the first man on the moon did say it was, “one small step for man and a giant leap for mankind. ”
[a si a si]
[All Mames Wey]
First Man was released in theaters October 12, 2018.