First Man

Check the length of your fingernails before and after the movie, gone down a bit? Hardly a surprise…

Don’t sit down late as the movie quite literally throws you headlong into a nerve shattering experience from the get go.

Director Damien Chazelle has created a film that broadly covers the lead up and execution of John F Kennedy’s plan to put a man on the moon. Commencing with the Gemini project and gradually moving through the sequential Apollo missions, each adding another layer of complexity, until landing on the moon became feasible.

Unless you inhabit the strange corners of the web, you will know how the story ends, with Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) jumping that last step onto the moon, because the ladder failed to extend the entire way, who knew?

The film depicts space travel/exploration from a first person P.O.V, brutal, bone shattering, very dangerous with everything set to explode at any moment. Science and endeavour at the cutting edge, with computer modelling in it’s infancy, everything had to be done for real, people and equipment pushed to their limit and beyond.

Anchoring this whirlwind is the steady, seemingly calm presence of Armstrong. Bouncing off the earth’s atmosphere in your experimental craft? No problem, just re-calibrate and try again. Eject from a fireball of an early lunar lander prototype? All in a days work.

However, dealing with an early family tragedy and the complexity of possibly leaving a family behind, following a fiery death, or shriveling to a walnut in a vacuum. Arguably not so good. Gosling portrays Armstrong as a man with all the “usual” feelings but unable to express them or deal with them, he seeks solitude and throws himself into his work.

Of course nobody puts the astronauts wives on the cover of a magazine but they remain the unsung heroes, creating an ordinary life and stability for the kids, never knowing whether their husband will ever come home again.

Claire Foy as Janet Armstrong is superb, as far away from her turn in “The Crown” as possible and portraying every emotion believably. The film also indicates not all supported the moonshot, could the money have been spent better elsewhere? – these are wider issues that resonate to this day.

There are several action scenes which are played with tension ratcheted up to 11, even though on occasion if you know your history, the end result is already known. This is superb cinema, every one of the supporting cast doing great work, including Kyle Chandler and Jason Clarke, with the period setting realistically portrayed.

When asked is the project worth the lives lost, Armstrong replies, “it’s a little late for that”, which sums up space travel or any endeavour at the edge of our understanding. You are in or out, there is no middle ground.


Exciting, tense, with believable emotions both on display and hidden. This is real grown up cinema, with no superhero cape in sight, the film only enjoyed “reasonable” box office success, which is shame as this was one of the best films of 2018.