First Man

Given that both of director Damien Chazelle’s previous outings (Whiplash and La La Land) were exercises in dislikeability, First Man manages to bring some humanity to what is essentially an engineering story. This thread is largely held together by Clare Foy, as Janet Armstrong. Gosling’s tabula rasa face has its place in Refn movies where emotional detachment is the theme. It had however wore thin in Bladerunner, and here it grates – the real life Armstrong is an engineer, and has always been somewhat, ahem, other worldly but Foy has more humanity in one utterance than old blank face manages throughout.

That aside it’s a reasonably intriguing account of the, let’s face it, bonkers idea to put men on the moon with technology that now seems one step removed from the steam engine. It recounts the loss of life and problems of the Gemini 8 mission and cockpit test. But it lacks the overall drive and tension it should possess. Aldrin is portrayed as a bit of a dick and there is no sense of camaraderie between the three astronauts – I don’t know if this is accurate.

It suffers from being overly long, and an absence of a captivating central performance. This is no Right Stuff, you don’t get a sense of why Armstrong was the chosen man, the sense of calm, reassuring leadership he must have had (in the way you did with, say, Sam Shepherd).

The result is that by the time we get to “the eagle has landed” it’s more a sense of relief the film is coming to a close than a celebration of the pinnacle of human engineering achievement. Chazelle repeatedly misses the mark in his movies – Whiplash felt like a cliched depiction of intense artistic endeavour where you wanted the protagonist to quit and get an office job, La La Land like a feel good musical with a bad cold. This is Apollo 13 with tension subtracted 

It is not without its moments however. It captures the solitude and sheer bravery of the mission well – the dark, silent shots of Apollo 11 heading into the void. After Foy, silence is the big star of the movie and the final moon scenes are ethereal and beautiful. But you can’t help feeling maybe we should have sent Janet Armstrong instead.

Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *