Review of ‘First Man’

I don’t normally post film reviews, but this film had me torn: on the one hand, it was at times a riveting account of the Apollo space program, the adventures of the men who helped land the first man on the moon, and the tragedies which befell those same brave men along the way (not to be sexist, they were mostly men).

On the other hand, the film felt schziophrenic in its portrayal of Neil Armstrong. It  felt like there were two films mashed into one, and ineloquently at that. I don’t mind some family drama as the backdrop against a plot like this, but I felt it was almost 50/50 and really detracting, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the cinematography was just atrocious. Using the jerky-cam for shots of suburban life is not only unnecessary, it’s jarring, and it has exactly the *opposite* effect of ‘drawing the viewer into the action.’ When I observe others’ lives, I am usually relatively static, and the camera, when it reflects that, makes the intimate, non-action sequences *more* realistic, not less.

Secondly, as I mentioned, the 50/50-ish weighting. What story is this? Is this about Neil Armstrong overcoming his young daughter’s death? Because, if so, the film doesn’t really make that point very well. How did this death affect his training or his ability to command missions? Was he more reckless as a result? Less? We have no idea, so what was the point?

I don’t mean to sound callous, but as my friend pointed out, *many* people have lost loved ones, even young children, to illness, but Armstrong will only ever be the first man to set foot on the moon. I understand the desire to be both accurate, to ‘humanize’ him, and to give him personal struggles/demons to overcome, but it’s disjointed. I felt this storyline was shoe-horned in (at whose behest I have no idea).

Thirdly, the entire ‘family drama’ thing was overblown and overwrought. Aside from the one outburst from Armstrong’s about speaking to their sons, it felt contrived. There was not obvious or subtle strain on the Armstrongs’ marriage, any more than any of the other couples who had devoted themselves to NASA over those years.

Lastly, while the action sequences themselves were well-shot (here the jerky-cam/steady-cam split worked very well), I was  disappointed that they barely showed any of the excitement of the moon landing. Yes, Armstrong could’ve left his daughter’s bracelet, and that was poignant, but what about actions like unfurling the flag? And in all the action sequences, save for the first one, they neglected the harrowing and difficult process of re-entry.

The opening action sequence, with Armstrong skipping off the atmosphere, the training, the explosion inside the capsule that killed 3 astronauts (damn), the first successful docking and then spinning out of control, the launch of Apollo 11 – all of these were handled magnificently and carried real emotive power.

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