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First Man: An Intense Biopic of America’s “Ice Commander”

Image+courtesy+of+Universal+Pictures.
Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Zachary Johnson, Writer

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First Man is Oscar-winning director and writer Damien Chazelle’s (Whiplash, La La Land) latest work, detailing the life of “Ice Commander” Neil Armstrong up to his famous first steps on the moon. Featuring a star-studded cast of Ryan Gosling (La La Land, The Notebook), Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty), Claire Foy (The Crown), and Kyle Chandler (Manchester by the Sea, Super 8), it goes without saying that First Man features phenomenal acting.

One thing everyone should be aware of going in is that this is a Neil Armstrong movie, not a space movie. Going in, I was unaware of this, and had seen little to no marketing for the film, save maybe for an announcement trailer and the poster. The film focuses extremely heavily on Armstrong’s personal life before the events of July 1969, and takes a radically different approach than other movies dealing with the space program. First Man is a fundamentally different type of film compared to movies like Apollo 13, and Chazelle’s stellar directing pulls this approach off quite well. Chazelle hones in on not only Armstrong himself, but also on his family and those around him. By around halfway through the movie, characters like Ed White and Janet Armstrong feel just as fleshed out and important as Armstrong himself.

Another great aspect of First Man is its coverage of Armstrong’s lesser known achievements. While everyone knows about Armstrong’s crown achievement of being the first man on the moon, far fewer know that he was also on the first mission to dock two vessels in orbit, and the first mission with a critical failure in flight. First Man also touched on Armstrong’s time as a test pilot, namely in the X-15, featuring  one of the most intense scenes in the entire film.

Another great aspect of this film is the sound design, namely in one of the final scenes. While I don’t want to spoil the scene itself, the sound design during the moon sequence took an already beautifully shot scene and transformed it into one of the most impactful scenes in modern cinema.

While I was somewhat disappointed that First Man didn’t feature as many beautiful shots of space as I had hoped, Damien Chazelle’s latest film is definitely worth the cost of admission. First Man may not have fared well at the box office, barely making a profit at all, but the movie could easily attain cult status, especially among hardcore space fans across the globe.

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First Man: An Intense Biopic of America’s “Ice Commander”