Movie Review: First Man
One of the newest films to hit theaters this weekend was Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong biographical drama, First Man. While directed by Chazelle, it was written by Josh Singer and based on James R. Hansen’s book, First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong. While the story follows the events that lead to the Apollo 11 mission, it particularly focuses on Armstrong’s personal journey during that time. The film stars Ryan Gosling as Armstrong and Claire Foy as his wife, Janet. The film’s supporting cast also includes Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Ciarán Hinds, Christopher Abbott, and Patrick Fugit. The film initially premiered at the Venice Film Festival in August and since its release in October has grossed around $25 million.
The movie starts on an intense note in 1961 as Neil Armstrong, who is currently a civilian test pilot, has to quickly problem solve during an X-15 flight. A few of his superiors question his suitability to fly after several unsuccessful and troublesome flights. After that sequence, it is revealed that Armstrong’s two-year-old daughter, Karen, has been receiving treatment for a brain tumor. She quickly passes, and while it is an event he doesn’t discuss, he is greatly impacted by the loss. Shortly thereafter, NASA begins looking for a new group of astronauts, and Neil interviews to join the group. He is accepted, and he and his family move to Houston, where they begin to befriend other families involved with the program. As missions begin, though, the cost of the space program begins to weigh heavily on Armstrong, his family, and all of those involved.
Personally, I am already a huge fan of Damien Chazelle’s work, and First Man is no exception. It is often hard to make a story excitable whenever the audience already knows the ending, yet the visuals and the ever-present tension make the space race feel all too real and stressful to the viewers. This film is absolutely gorgeous with its space sequences, and the sequence on the moon is especially breathtaking. The script is well written, and much like La La Land, it is not a dialogue heavy script. The score adds a lot of meaning to the story, and the actors are able to convey so much through long, steady sequences and silent looks.
First Man does an excellent job tracing eight years of Neil’s life through NASA’s space program, and it captures well the perils of space travel. It is easy to forget fifty years after these events how groundbreaking and unpredictable this program could be, and I thought the filmmakers captured all of these things exceptionally well. In addition to capturing the risks that accompanied the program, it also touched on the attitudes of many during the 1960’s. There were those who questioned whether the program was worth the cost, especially as lives were lost along the way, and there were many who thought it seemed trivial in light of the national problems and the state of the civil rights movement at that time. The movie captures all of these macro themes while also zeroing in on the single character of Neil Armstrong. He was a notoriously private and internal man, and the movie highlights that part of his personality. It traces how he ended up being on that Apollo 11 mission, and it also shows his determination throughout the process. The film also shows how deeply the loss of his daughter impacted everything he did, and I honestly believe that Ryan Gosling was the perfect casting for this character. He gives such a restrained performance, and he captures every intense encounter as well as the few moments of levity that the story provides. His performance is made even more effective by the presence of Claire Foy, who embodies the stress and uncertainty that every one of these astronaut’s wives lived with day in and day out.
Overall, I would say that First Man is one of the best films that I have watched this year. The performances from the leads to the supporting cast were powerful and amazingly understated at the perfect times. The story is compelling and exciting despite the ending already being known, and I think it is one of the most beautiful movies I have seen this year as well. I will say that it is an emotionally draining film because of the length of the movie and all the events that it covers, but it is an excellent watch. I recommend this one for a watch in theaters at any time, and while I cannot say for certain how it looks in IMAX, I believe the space sequences alone might make First Man worth a watch in IMAX as well.
Mollie is a film enthusiast, aspiring writer/screenwriter, and a lover of all things Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Doctor Who. She is the co-founder of The Digital Shore (@thedigitalshore) and Above The Line (@atl_movies). You can follow her many adventures through Twitter and Instagram at @mcbeach.