MAR­TAIN

Mercury (Hobart) - - ENTERTAINMENT - TIM

TAK­ING one of hu­man­ity’s great­est ac­com­plish­ments, land­ing on the moon, and telling the story vir­tu­ally as a tragedy is a pretty sig­nif­i­cant cre­ative risk.

First Man tells the story of Neil Arm­strong (Ryan Gosling), the Amer­i­can as­tro­naut who be­came the first hu­man be­ing to set foot on the moon, and rather than fo­cus­ing on the more spec­tac­u­lar as­pects of the space flight, this film spends most of its time ex­am­in­ing Arm­strong as a per­son.

And while the space flight and moon land­ing se­quences are beau­ti­fully shot and ren­dered, what is most spec­tac­u­lar about First Man is the nu­ance and com­pas­sion of this char­ac­ter study of one of the world’s most fa­mous peo­ple.

Based on the bi­og­ra­phy writ­ten by James R. Hansen, First Man paints a por­trait of a pen­sive and bro­ken Arm­strong. His calm, log­i­cal and un­flap­pable de­meanour made him in­dis­pens­able to the moon land­ing pro­gram, but the events that turned him into this per­son were tragic and crush­ing.

The death of Arm­strong’s daugh­ter, Karen, from a brain tu­mour at the age of two was the kind of tragedy that would break any per­son. And it is well known that her death put enor­mous strain on Arm­strong’s mar­riage, and her loss haunted him all his life.

First Man takes that theme and threads it to­gether with the dev­as­tat­ing pa­rade of loss and death that fol­lowed Arm­strong through­out his ca­reer, in­clud­ing the loss of sev­eral of his NASA com­rades, and crafts a story of how this kind of deep pain and grief can shape a per­son who is al­ready re­build­ing him­self from the ground up.

Gosling is mag­nif­i­cent in the role, giv­ing a del­i­cate and un­der­stated per­for­mance that gives us brief but tan­ta­lis­ing glimpses of the hu­man­ity and joy be­hind the al­most im­pen­e­tra­ble fa­cade of de­tach­ment and sto­icism he cre­ated around him­self.

The Arm­strong we see here is a man who is car­ry­ing an unimag­in­able amount of pain, and it only com­pounds as the story pro­gresses, chron­i­cling his de­scent from an emo­tion­ally func­tional fam­ily man to be­ing ut­terly bro­ken but hold­ing it all to­gether in the only way he knows how.

Claire Foy ( The Crown) also gives an ar­rest­ing per­for­mance as Arm­strong’s wife Janet, ar­guably the only per­son in Arm­strong’s life who is suf­fer­ing more than he is as she copes not only with the loss of their child, but with the ever-present threat of los­ing her hus­band as well.

There is an omi­nous sense of fear and doom pre­ced­ing each of the space flights de­picted in the film, even the ones in which no lives were lost.

And as we see ev­ery death through the pained eyes of Arm­strong, the ten­sion builds so steadily through­out the film that by the time we fi­nally see Apollo 11 blast off, I was feel­ing al­most phys­i­cally ill from the strain and anx­i­ety.

Di­rec­tor Damien Chazelle (who most re­cently di­rected Gosling in La La Land) has crafted a haunt­ingly beau­ti­ful film in First Man, com­bin­ing an af­fect­ing story with an aes­thetic that al­ter­nates be­tween a hand-held doc­u­men­tary and Stan­ley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

There is a lot of shaky-cam go­ing on here, but it is one of those rare cases in which the style is war­ranted, and it works. The un­steady whip­ping and wob­bling of the cam­era in cer­tain ground-based scenes adds an un­set­tling sense of ten­sion and anx­i­ety to the di­a­logue, and when the shak­ing is di­alled up to its jar­ring, nau­sea-in­duc­ing zenith dur­ing the space flight se­quences, it very ef­fec­tively in­vokes a sense of dis­ori­en­ta­tion and ter­ror.

And of course it is dif­fi­cult not to draw com­par­isons to Kubrick’s sci-fi mas­ter­piece in the un­de­ni­ably beau­ti­ful bal­let-like se­quences of space­craft in flight, tum­bling and rolling in to­tal si­lence, both dizzy­ing and gor­geous.

Chazelle makes ex­cel­lent use of si­lence in many parts of the film other than space flight. At times the score is al­most over­whelm­ing, when it needs to cre­ate a sense of

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