First Man

Tom’s Rating: 7/10 (+1 for space film) – Lucy’s Rating: 8/10.

Most people know at least the basics of the first moon landing. There are few ways therefore to spoil the story or, in fact, surprise an audience. First Man relies on the inherent drama and seeming impossibility of this episode in our history to stoke a reaction. On the whole, while it captures the daringness of the Gemini/Apollo missions well, it lacks the gut punch that I was perhaps expecting.

The film succeeds in those scenes that document the preparation that went into Apollo 11’s eventual moon landing. From Armstrong bouncing off the atmosphere, to his near-death experiences both close and far from the ground, the film goes a long way to showing just how daring NASA were in the 1960s. But since we know they eventually succeeded, too much time was spent making the landing sequence feel tense. Much more impactful was the plug-out test or the initial X-15 test flight - stories less well known to the viewing public.

Back on Earth, the other facet to this film was the running focus on Armstrong’s grief for both his daughter and his lost colleagues. Ryan Gosling plays Armstrong as a withdrawn, mission-focussed, close-the-office-door type of person. While at time it felt slightly tired, there were scenes where Gosling really hit the mark. In his final conversation with his family, Armstrong’s mind is already on the moon and Gosling captures this emotional disconnect very well.

For me, the film flew by and I could have easily watched an extra half an hour. I know that probably won’t be the case for many others. The film itself was good, but relied too much on people, like myself, being inherently fascinated with space.

Thomas Robinson
Thomas Robinson
Assistant Professor in Quantitative Comparative Politics

I am a political scientist studying representation, money in politics, and experimental/computational social science.