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First Man (2018) Movie Review

By: Reel 127 (Two Beers) –

I got into Damien Chazelle around the same time as everyone else with Whiplash. That ended up being one of my favorite films of 2014. So fresh off his Oscar for Best Director for La La Land I was surprised to learn that Chazelle’s next movie wouldn’t be musically-driven like his previous films.

First Man is a biopic focusing on Neil Armstrong’s career with NASA as an astronaut, as well as his family life during the time. Through much trial and error, plus battling his own shortcomings, Neil becomes the first man to set foot on the moon. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this movie going in. Spoilers ahead.

A Toast

I love this movie! This is probably the most “realistic” space flight film I have seen. By that I mean nothing makes you think being an astronaut is a fun experience. From the moment Neil joins the Gemini program, death lingers throughout the film. He loses friends and colleagues all in the effort to get a man to the moon. It shows that while space flight has been rewarding, there have been a lot of fatal errors made along the way.

Was surprised they show Apollo 1,
nothing says “let’s go to the moon”
like a fatal first attempt.

Ryan Gosling is incredible. I would say this is probably the most unlikable character I have ever seen him play. You never hate Neil Armstrong while watching First Man, but you very much understand him. This is one of the few films where Gosling isn’t a charming guy and it’s great. Claire Foy also had a mesmerizing performance as Janet Armstrong. While she is supportive of Neil, she has her own personality and worries that make her just as important to the story.

This was the only shot I could
find where he smiles.

Chazelle and Justin Horowitz continue to be great collaborators. The music and sound design of First Man are definitely some of the strongest things going for it. The cinematography and editing take some getting used to, though. The camera is never still (excluding most establishing shots) and lots of medium and close up shots are used. This ends up making the viewer feel like a fly on the wall, like they are in the scene with the characters. Unfortunately, there are a few times that this becomes too much and it’s annoying to watch. But for a vast majority of the film it works really, really well.

Here we go…

Despite everything this movie has going for it, First Man does have one glaring flaw: this is not a film for mainstream audiences. It won’t hold you hand and leave you feeling good when you leave the theater. Much like Neil on the moon, you can end up feeling cold and isolated.

Beer Two

If you get motion sickness, or are claustrophobic, don’t see this movie in theaters. Especially during liftoff sequences or when there is turbulence. It is the equivalent of watching a show on a tablet and shaking it violently. To the film’s credit, the claustrophobia comes from how small the space capsules are. It’s really good with a realistic presentation, but I was feeling anxious and I do not consider myself claustrophobic.

If you want a steadier frame
try The Blair Witch Project.

Really my only other gripe with the movie is Kyle Chandler as Deke Slayton and Corey Stoll as Buzz Aldrin. Neither of them was bad in this; however, both did not have much screen time and are well known actors. I couldn’t get a feeling for the characters except that Slayton was an old friend and supporter of Neil, and that Buzz Aldrin was kind of a dick. Stoll only becomes important in the final act of the movie; before that he is only in two scenes. This wasn’t enough to ruin my experience, though, and I doubt most people will care.


If after reading this review you feel like seeing this movie then definitely do. If all my warnings haven’t scared you, this movie is worth experiencing on the big screen. Still, I would recommend it and suggest waiting until it is on demand if necessary, but seeing this will be a headache if you can’t fast-forward. First Man has great potential for this awards season, and is a fantastic film to boot. Don’t miss experiencing this on the big screen!

First Man (2018) Drinking Game

Take a Drink: every time the camera is shaking at an obnoxious level.

Take a Drink: for every casualty discussed or shown.

Take a Drink: every time everything goes dead silent, especially after it is really loud.

Take a Drink: for every funeral.

Take a Drink: when Neil is being interviewed or at a press conference.

Take a Drink: every time someone puts on a spacesuit.

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