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MOVIE REVIEW: Moon mission biopic First Man far from sugar-coated fairy tale

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Vicky Sparks

Hold onto your spacesuits because First Man is not the feel-good Disney version of Neil Armstrong’s rise, it’s the real story of just how much suffering and loss went into that infamous first step.

This will probably delight some viewers and disappoint just as many.

Chronicling the eight years that preceded the moon landing, First Man dives into the home life of Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling), wife Janet (played formidably by Claire Foy) and their children. He is depicted as a highly intelligent but incredibly reserved man. His only public admission of grief after watching his toddler daughter die of cancer was to say it would “be unreasonable to assume it wouldn’t have some effect.”

An internal and restrained man doesn’t make for an easy character and Gosling does excellent and difficult work convincing us that while Armstrong may not show his feelings, he is still feeling them. Claire Foy plays Janet Armstrong as fierce and exasperated. It’s clear being married to an astronaut wasn’t easy, and this film highlights the burden she shouldered so her husband could become a hero.

We now take for granted that space exploration is possible. Astronauts are in space all the time from one country or another, and unless they’re doing something particularly groundbreaking it’s barely even news.

First man reminds us it was borderline impossible to get a man to the moon, and very real sacrifices were made by astronauts and their families to make it a reality.

When the story finally gets to space it does so in such a hyper realistic way you feel everything – from the straining screws holding together what is basically a tin can, to the sheer terror the astronauts must have felt. The shaking camera and incredible sound design and soaring score place you so firmly inside cockpit that you end up feeling nauseous.

If you wrote a fictional script of the first man to the moon, this isn’t the story you’d write. In the fairy tale version, the characters would be emotive and articulate about the immense world-changing challenge they were undertaking and they’d make you love them and cheer for them. Those characters don’t exist in this film.

In this telling, Neil Armstrong was brilliant but introverted and could be considered challenging, and Buzz Aldrin was so ambitious and blunt no one could stand him.

And along the way to the moon good people’s lives were shattered and lost so the entire world could dream bigger. The film makes no judgments about whether it was worth it but doesn’t pretend that the achievement came at no cost.

First Man is a solid film that peels back the curtain on the very real people who achieved the impossible.


Vicky Sparks is a Bright’s Grove native and movie critic for Global TV’s The Morning Show, which airs nationally on Fridays. Her Journal Reviews cover movies playing at Galaxy Cinemas Sarnia






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