Movie Review: First Man

Ryan Gosling and Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle reconnect to bring the historic Apollo 11 moon mission to the big screen.

Based on the authorized biography by James R. Hansen, this film focuses on the years 1961-1969, highlighting the many setbacks and sacrifices encountered by Neil Armstrong (well played by Gosling) and the other astronauts in the lead-up the moon landing.

On that momentous July day in 1969, I joined millions of people worldwide and watched as Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and delivered those famous lines: “The Eagle has landed” and “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Armstrong quickly assumed a global hero status that followed him throughout his life. Very little was known about his past and the family tragedy he faced before joining NASA.

A Korean War vet and test pilot, he and his wife Janet (Claire Foy) lost their two-year-old daughter Karen to complications from a brain tumor. According to this film, Karen’s untimely death contributed to Armstrong’s solitary nature and robotic self-discipline.

Gosling’s portrayal is spot on. The stony silences, clipped responses to interview questions, and dedication to his work reveal his stoicism. In fact, he was chosen to be the first man on the moon because of his resistance to drama.

Foy delivers an outstanding performance as Janet, Armstrong’s first wife. She doesn’t hesitate to scold her husband into having a sit-down conversation with their two sons before take-off. Well aware of the dangers inherent in the mission, Janet wanted their sons to be prepared for all outcomes. I wouldn’t be too surprised if Claire Foy receives an Oscar nod in the supporting actress category.

The cinematography is outstanding. I could easily imagine myself inside the cramped lunar module and experienced several heart-stopping moments as the spacecraft hurtled toward the crater-pocked surface of the moon. Another possible Oscar nod to Linus Sandgren.

There was some early criticism regarding the lack of a close-up of the American flag. I believe Chazelle made a wise decision, choosing instead to portray Armstrong’s wordless tribute to his daughter as he walked on the moon.

A thought-provoking film!


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6 responses to “Movie Review: First Man

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