FIRST MAN is an adaptation of the book by the same name by James Hansen. A biography of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, it tells the story of his personal life leading up to the Apollo 11 mission.
The film is directed by Damien Chazelle, who, despite being only 33, already has two massive award darlings under his belt with La La Land and Whiplash. The role os Armstrong is played by Ryan Gosling, an actor who continues to make very interesting career decisions.
Gosling is excellent as the extremely introverted Armstrong, who is struggles with the loss of his young daughter (I knew virtually nothing about Armstrong before this movie and found him a fascinating subject for this character study ). Claire Foy, however, steals the show, as she nearly always does, and credit goes to Chazelle avoiding the painful 'wife on the phone' trope. Foy is allowed be funny and smart as well as supportive for an extremely difficult husband. Without her the movie would not work.
Watching First Man recalls a line in Apollo 13 where Ed Harris says “We’ve never lost a man to space and we’re not going to lose one now.” It was used in the trailer and Spielberg milked it. I see now how disingenuous that line was. So many deaths on the road to this eventual successful mission, and the outrage surrounding the sums of money this was costing, is something I’m extremely sympathetic to. I also enjoyed the use of Gil Scott-Heron’s 'Whitey On The Moon'.
Unlike Apollo 13 or The Right Stuff, First Man does not come wrapped in the American flag and I admire its conscious move away from jingoism. This is more of a study of Neil Armstrong the man, rather than the event. It is perfectly OK to celebrate an event while being aware of and listening to the criticisms. Perhaps Chazelles learned from the heavy critiques of La La Land.
This is a movie I expected to like, but ended up liking for entirely different reasons to the ones I assumed I would. It is doubtful whether First Man will do well come awards season, but oh is this worth seeing in the cinema. Just be aware its a two and a half hour movie about the space race. Not for everyone.