One small step into the life of one of America’s greatest men

Rick Armstrong, left, Ryan Gosling and Mark Armstrong attend the "First Man" premiere at the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018, in Washington. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

Damien Chazelle has given audiences an experience that they never felt before: To feel as though they are stepping on the moon. Many films have covered space travel before, with 2013’s “Gravity” standing out as a prime example of a film that fully immersed its audience in the experience of an astronaut, but this film takes that concept to a new level. Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon are one of the defining moments of human history, recognizable throughout the world. Now, instead of seeing it through grainy footage limited by 1960s television, audiences can witness this event as if it were happening right before their eyes.

Chazelle received no shortage of critical praise in the past for his hit films “Whiplash” and “La La Land.” Now, he has proven himself once more as one of the most gifted filmmakers of his generation with “First Man.” Still, Chazelle does not receive all the credit for the success of this film. The cinematography by Linus Sandgren is outstanding, especially in any of the sequences involving air or space travel. The shots of the moon’s surface are immaculate, leaving you with no option but to stare in awe at their intense beauty.

Most audiences probably know little about Neil Armstrong going into this film. Thankfully, “First Man” more than succeeds at its job, creating a complex portrayal of Armstrong thanks to strong writing by Josh Singer and another terrific performance by Ryan Gosling. Armstrong comes off not as a traditional Hollywood hero, but as a compelling man who struggles to overcome deep emotional loss and balance his family life with his increasingly weighty duties. Other standout performances come from Claire Foy (“The Crown”) as Neil’s wife, Janet and Jason Clarke (“Zero Dark Thirty”) as fellow astronaut Ed White.

Singer’s screenplay for the film is very unique, capturing real dialogue well. The characters never seem to give in to the commonly stilted dialogue of historical epics, instead acting like actual human beings. This provides both a relaxed atmosphere to many of the scenes and a high level of authenticity.

Still, the film is not perfect. The first half of the film tends to drag, especially in scenes involving Armstrong’s family. Also, some of the time jumps gloss over information that could have been helpful in establishing the importance of the Apollo missions. The film does spend some time on how groundbreaking NASA’s efforts were, but you never truly get a sense of what is at stake for not just these astronauts, but the human race as well. For this reason, the film does not rise to the heights of 1983’s “The Right Stuff” or 1995’s “Apollo 13.” Still, that is by no means a denigration of the film’s quality, as it still stands as one of the great space films and unquestionably one of the best films of the year.

Kayla Sinkevitch, a University of Connecticut Residential Associate and Universal Studios employee, organized the screening. Students were bused to the theatre in the East Brook Mall for a special advanced showing of the film. Sinkevitch said that she felt the film would be a good choice for students due to its focus on the unknown personal life of such an icon. Sinkevitch will also be organizing a screening of “Green Book,” starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, next month.

Rating: 4/5 stars


Evan Burns is campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at evan.burns@uconn.edu.