First Man, rated PG-13
First Man is a film about astronaut Neil Armstrong, leading up to and including his historic trip to the moon. The film was highly anticipated as it was directed by three-time Oscar nominee and winner for La La Land, Damien Chazelle, who also directed the excellent Whiplash, and written by Oscar winner Josh Singer (Spotlight) based on the book by First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen. The film tries to be as historically accurate as possible, with Armstrong’s sons working with the filmmakers.
The film has a solid cast led by two-time Oscar nominee Ryan Gosling (La La Land, Half Nelson) as Neil Armstrong. The film is not just about the Apollo 11 mission, and Armstrong being the first man to walk on the moon. It delves deeply into Armstrong’s strained relationship with his wife Janet, played by Golden Globe winner Claire Foy (The Crown).
After their young daughter Karen dies, Neil becomes distant and throws himself into his work at NASA. A very high percentage of marriages can’t survive the loss of a child, and the Armstrongs were not an exception, as they divorced in 1994 after 38 years of marriage. Armstrong was a hero, one that his family referred to as a reluctant American hero. He died in 2012.
The film follows Armstrong from his early days as a pilot, joining NASA, time on the Gemini program, including the near fatal Gemini 8 mission, and through the historic 1969 Apollo 11 mission with Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. The film conveys how dangerous being an astronaut was, as we see or hear about several astronauts dying, including Armstrong’s friend and neighbor Ed White, played by Jason Clarke (Chappaquiddick).
The film shows that not everyone in the country was in support of the space program with its cost and danger, while the country was facing many problems at the time.
The film is visually stunning thanks to cinematographer Oscar winner Linus Sandgren (La La Land), especially the scenes on the moon, which were controversial because they do not depict Armstrong planting the American flag on the moon.
Themes include patriotism, family, dedication to work at the expense of family, grief following the loss of a child and friends, and danger. Content concerns include some adult language and the death of astronauts.
First Man was in some ways brilliant, notably when it gives the viewer a feeling of what the rocket blast-off was like, as the screen shook and the camera pans over to the bolts (will they hold?). I don’t like even the slightest bit of turbulence when flying, but this film, perhaps better than any other, gives us a feeling of what the experience in the cockpit of a rocket would be like. The acting was excellent, not only by Gosling and Foy, but also by the solid supporting cast. But in other ways, the film was much too slow, including a final drawn out scene between Gosling and Foy as they meet for the first time upon his return from the moon, and a good twenty minutes too long.