Review: First Man [Spoiler Free]

In this week’s review, we rocket into the unknown with Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy for Damien Chazelle’s First Man, a biographical drama detailing the career of astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon.

One small step for man…

Why now?

First Man is in cinemas now (so get out there and see it!).

In a nutshell

Following the tragic death of his young daughter, test pilot Neil Armstrong applies for Project Gemini and is accepted onto the programme, moving to Houston with his wife Janet, son Rick, and a number of other astronaut families. He rises through the ranks with NASA, overcoming a variety of near-death experiences to lead the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, where he becomes the first human being in history to walk on the lunar surface.

Who’s it for?

First Man is rated 12a and features very little that should put parents off bringing kids along, apart perhaps from the at-times-heavy subject material of the film.

Who’s in it?

Ryan Gosling plays Neil Armstrong in yet another impeccable (and understated) performance. To me, Gosling is the modern-day Harrison Ford, displaying an effortless calm in his acting style that constantly promises to burst into action at any moment. He’s very believable as Armstrong and conveys the harrowing aspects of the astronaut’s life and career with considerable emotional range.

Claire Foy plays Janet, Armstrong’s very understanding and supportive wife. If you’ve seen Foy in The Queen, this will throw you a bit – she’s very much the average American woman working hard to hold her family together as her husband embarks on endless space missions, each of which he barely survives. Foy will be up for an Oscar for her role in this film.

Supporting them are Corey Stoll as Buzz Aldrin (he’s dead annoying in this, but he’s supposed to be), Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler and Ciaran Hinds, among a number of other recognisable Hollywood faces. The cast are all superb and lend to the Gosling-Foy duo heading up the film.

The good stuff

This is a very well-directed and well-written film which gradually draws out the story of Neil Armstrong’s rise to fame as the man who took “one small step” all those years ago. The acting is top-notch, and all of the space sequences are impossible to look away from. Personally, I only knew bits and pieces about the Apollo 11 mission, so I found the whole film totally engrossing. I came away with a massive respect for those who risked their lives in pursuit of knowledge, and I still can’t believe such a feat was achieved in 1969!

The not so good stuff

The only real criticism I have of this film is its length. At 141 minutes with an ending that you’re well aware of when you buy your ticket, it sometimes feels like it’s burning very slowly towards that conclusion. The lady next to me in the cinema had nodded off well before the Eagle landed, and I know others who expressed the same sentiment.

Still, this is a movie clearly shooting for awards come the start of 2019, so it was always going to pack a lot in.

The bottom line

First Man is a thoroughly-engrossing biographical drama about one of the greatest technological achievements of all time. It features a solid script, good direction, and two great leading actors (both of whom should be nominated for a little golden statue in February), and will carry you gradually towards that thrilling moment when Neil Armstrong makes “one giant leap for Mankind”, if you allow it to.

Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Posted by
David McIlroy

Freelance writer/contributor based in Northern Ireland. Degrees in English, Film and Youth Work. Married to the beautiful Christine. My main things: God, family, movies, reading, and Liverpool FC.