Film: First Man
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Corey Stoll,Kyle Chandler, Pablo Schreiber,
Director: Damien Chazelle
Rating: * * * *
The global village is well aware of Uncle Sam’s triumphant race to the moon. ( All those poems we read as children will never be the same again) But few know of the tragedies that consumed the lives of several astronauts and I daresay, Russian cosmonauts too. Still, Soviet Russia was famously silent ( censored) so we may never know. The fierce competition between the US and USSR to send a human to the orb that waxes and wanes and inspired madness and poetry is referenced in Oscar-winning helmer Damien Chazelle’s film which prefers to present a portrait of the titular subject’s life at home and in the world.
It is, all things considered, a splendid profile of astronaut Neil Armstrong, adapted for the most part, from James R. Hansen’s 2005 official biography and inputs from Armstrong’s sons who suggested for example deletion of foul language because people didn’t speak that way then.
A daughter named Karen died very young from a brain tumour and Armstrong (Ryan Gosling, intense) may have never really come to terms with her untimely passing. The child’s memory is a constant presence -from their native California to the NASA Space Centre in Houston where Armstrong prepares for the lunar mission. More deaths follow, of colleagues and friends and Armstrong seems stoic about the casualties. But the inner turmoil we know, thanks to Josh Singer’s script and Chazelle’s directorial artistry. That encomium could also be applied to Oscar-winning composer Justin ( La La Land) Hurwitz whose orchestral score infuses drama into the narrative which shows opposition to the Apollo 11 mission from those who prefer the space project money was spent on the poor.
The film omits the deep religiosity of Armstrong’s teammate Buzz Aldrin but it goes without saying that Chazelle ( who also bagged an Oscar for LaLaLand) and Singer take a few liberties with real life. But we won’t quibble. Suffice to say lead actor Gosling who also starred in LaLaLand essays Armstrong who became the first human being to walk on the Moon on July 21, 1969, effortlessly. Also ramping up the Oscar potential of this film are the special effects, editing and cinematography that captures the riveting mystery of the moon.