A review of the new space movie “First Man”

The ‘Space Race’ between the USA and the USSR took place in the 1960s when I was an impressionable teenager and I followed avidly every exciting development.

NASA’s Apollo 11 mission – the concluding segment of this movie – was in July 1969. At the time, I was president of my students’ union at university and I kept the union building open all night so that we could watch live Neil Armstrong’s “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. Chronologically “First Man” comes between “The Right Stuff” and “Apollo 13” and it is a superb addition to the space canon of the cinema.

Director Damien Lazelle (“Whiplash”) and writer Josh Singer (“Spotlight”) have chosen to tell Armstong’s story from 1961-1969 so the movie opens with a breathtaking flight in a North American X-15 experimental aircraft and concludes with his safe return from the moon.

The account is not a triumphalist one, but a human one, showing the danger and the death involved in the Apollo programme and the struggle by Armstrong – a man of restained emotions and few words – to cope with the loss of a daughter and the worry of his wife and sons.

Interestingly this American couple is portrayed by the Canadian Ryan Gosling as the laconic Neil and the British Claire Foy as his more expressive wife Janet. Of course, Lazelle and Gosling worked together on the delightful “La La Land” and, while the topic is utterly different, the chemistry is just as sparkling and the representation of obsession just as compelling.

We really see and indeed feel how tiny and fragile the space capsule was and how powerful and explosive the rockets were. The attention to period detail is impressive, even down to one of the Armstrong sons wearing a Davy Crockett coonskin cap (we all had those), while the sound (Phil Barrie) and cinematography (Linus Sandgren) are simply stunning.

See “First Man” on a big screen and you’ll leave the cinema feeling that you’ve made a lunar flight but glad that it wasn’t your life on the line. The last time that a man was on the moon was in December 1972 and one wonders whether and, if so, when and why it will happen again …



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