A slow, im­mer­sive char­ac­ter-driven film

Millennium Post - - Mp Around Town -

Based on the book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Arm­strong by James R. Hansen, this film di­rected by Damien Chazelle

looks into the life of the as­tro­naut and the leg­endary, suc­cess­ful, space mis­sion Apollo 11, that led him to be­come the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.

The nar­ra­tive be­gins from 1961 in the Mo­jave Desert in Cal­i­for­nia, where a test air­craft al­most goes dev­as­tat­ingly awry. And from thereon, it tracks Arm­strong’s pro­fes­sional and to some ex­tent, per­sonal life over the course of the 1960s, cov­er­ing his re­cruit­ment into NASA’S Gemini pro­gramme and the

long se­ries of tri­umphs and tragedies where the lives of not just fel­low space trav­ellers but close friends are lost.

By the end, it is clear that Neil feels ob­li­gated, al­most des­tined to reach the moon as a way of pay­ing re­spect to those who have fallen on the odyssey. And even­tu­ally, when he lands on the moon, the quest is far more per­sonal than pa­tri­otic. And this is ev­i­dent also at the near end, with the un­der­play­ing of the con­tro­ver­sial hoist­ing of the Amer­i­can flag on the sur­face of the crater.

While the tale is fas­ci­nat­ing, its pac­ing is a bit dis­ap­point­ing. The nar­ra­tive is painstak­ingly slow, de­spite the first act jump­ing around to es­tab­lish the in­cit­ing mo­ments. The graph works oc­ca­sion­ally, but it def­i­nitely leaves the nar­ra­tive scat­tered as it in­tro­duces char­ac­ters all over the place.

Ryan Gosling gives a com­pelling per­for­mance as he slips into the shoes of the enig­matic and dis­pas­sion­ate Neil, who is at­tempt­ing to strike a balance be­tween his am­bi­tion and re­la­tion­ships. He is un­der­stated and sub­tle in his dis­play of emo­tional strength, which comes from the pain he en­dures with the loss of his young daugh­ter.

He is aptly sup­ported by Claire Foy as his wife Janet in a stock, sup­port­ive-but-con­cerned wife role. Vis­ually, the film is tur­bu­lently spec­tac­u­lar and en­thralling as it cap­tures the rus­tic-ness of the era, the sur­face of the moon and the cramped rocket where the as­tro­nauts are sur­rounded by but­tons and di­als.

There is noth­ing tran­quil or re­as­sur­ing about the ride. While the wide-an­gle shots of space and the sur­face of the moon are stun­ning, the anx­ious­ness is felt in the in­te­ri­ors of the air­craft or space­flight sim­u­la­tor, as it is pushed to the brink of chaos with shaky, hand­held cam­er­a­work. The tight cin­e­matog­ra­phy of­ten cy­cles be­tween mis­sion but­tons, fuel dis­play and the char­ac­ters them­selves. This un­nerv­ing claus­tro­pho­bic ex­pe­ri­ence could be a cause of com­plaint for a few. Over­all, watch­ing it on an IMAX screen would def­i­nitely give you an im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence.

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