My wife and I really wanted to see First Man in the theater, but we just never got around to it. However, I made sure to rent it from the Normal Public Library as soon as it became available.
If you’re unfamiliar with the movie, it stars Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong and follows his path to becoming the first man to step on the moon. It also stars Claire Foy as Janet Armstrong, Neil’s wife. You know Foy from The Crown–she played Queen Elizabeth. The film is directed by Damien Chazelle, who also directed La La Land and Whiplash. As you can see, First Man is a can’t-miss between these three talents.
Let me begin by saying that I loved this movie. Admittedly, though, it did not follow the trajectory that I expected. First Man zeroes in on Neil Armstrong the person, not the engineer, not the pilot, and not the astronaut.
I must confess–I knew nothing about Neil Armstrong other than his monumental feat. Gosling played him as a quiet, repressed, introvert. After a little research, it seems that this interpretation was not terribly off-base.
Furthermore, I did not realize that Armstrong lost a child when she was only two years old. Though this loss occurs very early in the film, it becomes a subtle, though potent, plot point and driving motivator.
The creators of this film depict some beautiful cinematography, but they made some really interesting choices in what to show us. They opted against shots depicting the magnificent glory of space travel. Instead, they often give us the story from Neil’s perspective. His view is often limited, obstructed, and cramped. The machinery creeks, rattles, and doesn’t always respond as intended. Even the NASA bathrooms were displayed realistically, which means … not exactly pristine. First Man exposes the down and dirty aspects to making the impossible possible.
Don’t get me wrong, First Man absolutely inspires the human spirit to try to achieve more, but it also makes it very clear that these men were risking their lives each and every time they climbed into anything associated with space exploration. Furthermore, the film made sure to honor those men who did indeed lose their lives to America’s cause. Though it’s hard to watch, it does not shy away from death.
Claire Foy delivers an understated performance pertaining to the NASA wife’s existence. Her Janet Armstrong must navigate the complexities of being a supportive wife, a lonely mother, and a grieving friend, but also that of an intelligent human being who will hold her husband accountable when he’s neglecting both she and his family. She and Gosling’s chemistry is interesting, to say the least. They exhibit a troubled marriage that it not yet completely revealed.
In fact, subtle is how I would describe this film as a whole. It is quiet, understated, and moody. Just know that, when they reach the moon, it is breathtaking. The lunar landscape appears as it typically does–they did not break with reality. But the tight shots of the astronauts, the equipment, and even the granular surface–it’s mesmerizing. And, though you won’t expect it, a moment arrives that damn near brought me to tears. I won’t spoil it for you, but it gave me great insight into the film’s perception of Neil Armstrong and his motivation.
Consequently, First Man has a beautiful–beautiful!–score composed by Justin Hurwitz. It’s currently free to download if you are an Amazon Prime member. Find it by clicking HERE.
Because of its somber tone, I’m not surprised First Man has not made more of an impact. Though people would probably expect it to be, it’s not really a feel-good movie for the masses. Nevertheless, it is a wonderfully constructed film. If you love NASA, space travel, or any of the creative talents involved in making this movie, you will not be disappointed. Though it’s unusual, it definitely won me over.
On a side note, the movie briefly notified the viewing audience that it was based on a book by James R. Hansen. Because the movie portrayed Neil Armstrong in such an interesting manner, and because I literally know nothing about the American legend, I stopped by the library and picked it up. It’s titled First Man: The Life Of Neil A. Armstrong. You can take a look at it HERE.
(Did you enjoy this review? Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)