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First Man | Average Guy Movie Review

A look at the life and career of Neil Armstrong. The story follows the astronaut and his involvement in the space race, during the 1960's, as NASA works to put a man on the moon.

Damien Chazelle re-teams with his La La Land star Ryan Gosling to tell the story of one of the world's most famous astronauts. Rather than focusing on the job Armstrong did at NASA, Chazelle chooses to look more at the man himself. It's a bold choice given that you could easily make a movie solely about the Apollo 11 mission. The moon landing itself only takes up a very small part of the movie. But it's a gamble that pays off, when you watch First Man you realise how little you actually know about the man. After a heart-stopping opening involving the X-15 rocket plane, we're brought crashing back down to Earth, as Neil and his family deal with tragedy at home. A tragedy that will affect Neil more - it seems - than the dangers of his work.

Gosling is the perfect choice to play Armstrong, a man who is known for having kept his feelings to himself. Through his strong yet reserved performance, Gosling is able to emote so much without saying a word. But the standout performance belongs to Claire Foy, who plays Armstrong's wife Janet. She has to deal with many of the same things Neil does, whilst also facing being left behind to pick up the pieces. One can only imagine what it must have been like finding yourself at odds with an agency like NASA, especially back then. But Janet did it with apparent ferocity, and Foy portrays this beautifully. She brings incredible strength to the role, as we see on several occasions. In one particular scene, she forces Neil to speak to their children about the dangers of his work before leaving on the Apollo 11 mission.

Working from a script based on James Hansen's official biography, it seems Chazelle's major goal was authenticity. Although I'm happy to say that things don't get too technical. I never felt like I needed a scientist to guide me through what was happening on screen. The Armstrong family home was recreated using the original blueprints and the mock-ups of space craft were allowed to be no more than 10% larger than the real thing, even if it meant sacrificing the comfort of the actors. Instead of using green screen, LED screens were used during the filming of space scenes to provide the actors with accurate views of what the astronauts would have seen out of their windows. And it's thanks to all this that Chazelle achieves the desired authenticity. The space programme is unfortunately marred by tragedy, but even a person well versed in its history will find the tension in certain scenes almost unbearable.

The unfortunate problem with a biopic such as this, is trying to fit a decade of the subject's life into a two hour movie. Something that leaves the movie with a sort of sporadic feel, jumping - in some cases years - from one event to the next. It's a shame to say that this does leave you wondering what they left out or just couldn't fit in. First Man has been criticised for omitting a scene involving the planting of the American flag on the moon. Several politicians have even jumped on the band-wagon in order to make a mountain out of this non-existent molehill, better not tell them that Gosling is Canadian! The flag is seen on the moon, as are several others throughout the course of the movie, it's perfectly clear that this is an American mission. Chazelle responded to this supposed controversy by saying: "My goal with this movie was to share with audiences the unseen, unknown aspects of America's mission to the moon." A goal he more than achieves! The moon landing scenes beautifully reflect the awe and wonder of such an incredible achievement. One that continues to captivate all of humanity to this day.

An exciting and fascinating look at the life of one of the space race's most famous players. Despite some sporadic story telling, Damien Chazelle has delivered a gripping view of life for those who explore beyond our world and the effect that has on them and the ones they leave behind.


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