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First Man (2018)

First Man is the first non-music oriented feature from Damien Chazelle. That doesn’t mean much. It’s just that I am tired of seeing that brought up in the EPK material. It’s terrific that a talented young director can break out of an early pit. I just want to see what he can do with an American hero. Well, other than awkwardly cutting the American flag out of one of our country’s most historic 20th Century moments. But, let’s move on.

I’m a big fan of the Space Race. The Right Stuff ruined a generation of nerds on space exploration, as we grew up expecting character studies in every historical film dive. The result is a lot of films that came off hokey or feeling incomplete. Chazelle walks a fine line with this in First Man. However, he pulls back and gives the audience over to the process of space exploration. There is a lot of trial and error. Hell, some people even die. But, it feels more dense than what an emotionless director like Nolan would make.

Neil Armstrong is an odd guy. Hell, I tried visiting him once in Cincinnati. It didn’t go well, but that’s a story for another time. Anyways, the man dealt with great tragedy and the never-ending desire to keep pushing forward. Aldrin and Collins’ drive to go into space have been covered elsewhere, but there was something to Armstrong’s approach. The meticulous nature he took to everything is what kept the Gemini and later the Apollo programs alive.

It wasn’t enough to be an astronaut. Armstrong believed that his piloting skills and knowledge of safety in mechanics could save future lives. After Grissom and the others perished, the man became a machine. His family life suffered, as he tried to pull away and focus on doing something greater for mankind. Claire Foy gets the thankless role of playing as Armstrong’s wife. It’s a shame, as I felt Foy could’ve contributed more than warranted hysterics.

This film demands a viewing in IMAX. I’m not one for the gimmicks of 3D, Atmos and the other premium trappings of the theatrical experience. However, Chazelle uses every inch of the frame for the shuttle launches and space exploration. Watching the components disengage, lock in and push our heroes is awe-inspiring. That is when it’s not use to increase the tension. Great stuff all around and well worth your time.

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