“First Man” Successfully Takes Off (Movie Review)
First Man tells the compelling story of Neil Armstrong and the NASA space program from 1961 to 1969 and showcases the earthly and interstellar obstacles that led to one of mankind’s greatest triumphs.
The film gives an unflinchingly intimate glimpse into Neil Armstrong’s personal and professional life that propels the history of NASA into the modern age.
Ryan Gosling is a triumph as the haunted Armstrong who spends the majority of the movie overcoming the tremendous losses that literally rock the screen with their proximity. Patiently focused on the faces of the astronauts and their wives, the film is built upon its stellar cast and the expressiveness of their bodies in an otherwise quiet movie. Regardless of dialogue, though, every moment is deafening in its emotionality.
The film deals with the big, shinier moments in a way that doesn’t glamorize NASA or the Apollo missions. Instead, the majority of shots are shaky, grainy, and at some points disorienting; director Damien Chazelle likes to force the audience into the film as intruders on the most intimate moments of a man’s life and he rarely backs down.
Repeatedly during this film, the air was sucked out of theater as if we were exiting Earth’s atmosphere, too. Each time we entered space with Neil, we had changed with him so by the ultimate mission, we were just as resilient.
As a married couple recovering from loss, Armstrong (Gosling) and Shearon (Claire Foy) are determined and devoted to each other and their family. The rawness of their onscreen marriage is spoken through tense scenes and cutting assurances.
The quietness of their life on the ground is nearly as shaking as Armstrong’s trips into space. There are few moments of tenderness between them which deliberately makes each small connection extremely powerful.
The film is overall a long dredge through NASA’s every mistake. It refuses to back down from realities of the space program and the opposition it faced from the American public.The Soviets are a small after thought in the film and not the driving force of the plot.
First Man is more a narrative about the drive to succeed over nature rather than a race to beat the opposition. This is largely due to Gosling and his portrayal of America’s reluctant hero.
The space scenes, in particular, are where Gosling triumphs. It’s bewildering, terrifying, and exhilarating; you know the outcome, but the electrifying apprehension is more and more palpable with every dashboard alarm. In those moments it’s not about the Russians, it’s about surviving.
The end of the film is well known but nonetheless leaves the audience with a sense of pride and accomplishment that is comparable to what those watching live must have felt. The film made the viewer a part of Apollo 11, which was indescribably hopeful.
The film is moving and inspires the audience to be proud of America’s accomplishments, while defending the honor of NASA and its astronauts.
Catch First Man this weekend at a theater near you!