MATTHEW BOND FILM OF THE WEEK
Cert: 12A 2hrs 21mins
T★★★★★slipped the surly he line ‘Oh, have bonds of Earth’ may have been written by the Anglo-American Spitfire pilot and poet John Gillespie Magee Jr, to describe the sheer unbridled joy of highaltitude flight, but it was made famous by President Reagan, when he used it in his tribute to the astronauts killed in the Challenger space shuttle disaster.
It comes up in Damien Chazelle’s stunning new film First Man too, but I found myself thinking of it long before it actually arrived. Because those surly bonds don’t get much surlier than they are here.
Now I love a good space film, but the thrilling triumph of this one is that it puts you right there in the cockpit, alongside Neil Armstrong – first as he flies the rickety X-15 rocket plane, then the orbiting space capsules of the Gemini programme and, finally, on Apollo 11, the mission that would propel him into history as the first man to stand on the Moon.
You feel every bump and vibration, are deafened by the noise, and generally marvel at the sheer brute power required for those surly bonds to be slipped.
And then finally, just when you’re beginning to wonder 18 I how much more of this disorientating, horizon-swinging punishment you can take, the vibrations stop, the noise ceases and something small – normally a pen – slowly floats past to indicate that weightlessness has been achieved. They are absolutely stunning sequences and if the film doesn’t get major award nominations for its cinematography (Linus Sandgren’s kinetic camerawork is particularly effective), editing and sound design, I shall be astonished. Thankfully, what happens on the ground is top-notch too, as you would expect from the Oscarwinning Chazelle, who made both La La Land and Whiplash, and a cast led by Ryan Gosling and The Crown star Claire Foy.
Gosling plays Armstrong, who by the time the film begins in 1961 was already a veteran of the Korean War and a Navy flyer and had become a civilian test pilot. But while by day he flew the X-15 to the very edge of space, by night he researched the aggressive tumour that was soon to claim the life of his two-yearold daughter, Karen. This loss, the film convincingly suggests, would be a defining moment in Armstrong’s extraordinary life.
Gosling, currently Hollywood’s