First Man Movie Review
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There are firsts for everything. Even though First Man (2018) is neither the first space exploration film nor the first film regarding NASA, it may be the first film to truly convey the fragility of life from a character-centered point of view.
Ryan Gosling plays the part of Neil Armstrong. The year is 1969 and Armstrong is a seasoned astronaut always eager for a chance to participate in the next best opportunity in space exploration. Meanwhile, back at home, Armstrong’s wife Janet (Claire Foy), takes care of their two children. The younger of the two children is stricken with cancer. Neil struggles with dividing his time between NASA and caring for his ailing child. He is faced with the realization of how short and fragile life can be, while continuously facing mortality and death with each flight.
Jason Clarke plays Edward Higgins White, Armstrong’s neighbor who is also in the NASA program and becomes more of a mentor to Armstrong. Ciarán Hinds plays Robert Gilruth, who also has Armstrong’s best interests in mind, and becomes Armstrong’s voice of reason. The other astronauts, Pete Conrad (Ethan Embry), Elliott See (Patrick Fugit), and Mike Collins (Lukas Haas) are all represented by familiar Hollywood faces and give solid support to Gosling’s character. Corey Stoll, (Ant–Man, 2015) plays an exceptional Buzz Aldrin, adding an unsavory element to the flight group.
Director Damien Chazelle (La La Land 2016, and Whiplash 2014) seamlessly blends the vastness of space and lunar landscapes with true human drama and American achievement. Chazelle combines the visually-gritty cinematic stylings of Oliver Stone with the medium-to-closeup visual ‘sun-shot’ stylings of Tony Scott. The storytelling and presentation draw the viewer in, so the audience cannot help but feel both anxious and terrified with each flight.
Clare Foy puts forth an award-winning performance, both as a supportive and understanding wife and a persistent and tough-as-nails mother. Janet is one of the few people who can get through to Neil. Jane can also stand up to Neil’s colleagues when they attempt to edit what she hears during Neil’s flights and when they try to keep her in the dark. Contrasts between establishing a legacy versus living with loss and the continued funding of the NASA programs versus homelessness and poverty from lack of funding are explored here.
First Man is no ‘giant leap’ in space exploration films, but it definitely measures up to modern classics like The Right Stuff (1983) and Apollo 13 (1995). It is officially award season. Be sure and catch this one in theaters