On the heels of their six-time Academy Award®-winning smash, La La Land, Oscar®-winning director Damien Chazelle and star Ryan Gosling reteam for Universal Pictures’ First Man, the riveting story of NASA’s mission to land a man on the moon, focusing on Neil Armstrong and the years 1961-1969. A visceral, first-person account, based on the book by James R. Hansen, the movie will explore the sacrifices and the cost—on Armstrong and on the nation—of one of the most dangerous missions in history.
What We Thought:
75% of First Man is the best picture of the year. Unfortunately there is 25% that is completely unnecessary to me. The film opens with a claustrophobic solo flight with Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) that rattles the viewer and prepares them for some incredible visuals and intensity.
But then the film gets into his family. Yes Armstrong was a family man and suffered a tragedy that I won’t ruin for those who don’t know, but it’s these scenes with the family I just didn’t care about. Hollywood has a tendency to take incredible feats and then try to humanize the people involved. Armstrong was the first man on the moon hence the title of the film. The family storyline just didn’t work for me. Having scenes with his wife and kids and scenes dealing with a funeral is fine, it was his life during this same time period, but so much of it feels forced. Claire Foy plays his wife and there are two scenes with her I would bet were made up for the movie. She goes to NASA to force them to turn the audio back on so she can hear what’s happening to Neil and there’s another scene before the Apollo 11 launch where she forces Neil to talk to his kids before he leaves. It feels so fake and Hollywoodized. I don’t know if Foy was overacting throughout the movie or if that’s what they asked her to do, but it all felt out of place. You get huge punches of intensity and drama then you get ripped out of that to go back to the home life.
But man are those punches of intensity worth the price of admission. That first scene puts you in the cockpit with Armstrong, gives you his perspective and literally rattles around you. Then Neil becomes part of the Gemini and Apollo NASA projects and wow. You get scenes of training, rocket launches, failures and death along with the greatest accomplishment NASA has ever made. The launch of Apollo 11 is just breathtaking. Director Damien Chazelle may be known for La La Land and Whiplash, but he’ll be handed a tentpole blockbuster after this if he wants it. The space visuals are some of the best we’ve seen since 2001: A Space Odyssey. I honestly loved the NASA stuff and found a lot of it to be jaw dropping and spectacular. I wish the movie was nothing but these scenes.
Going into the movie I was aware of the flag controversy surrounding the film. In real life Armstrong planted an American flag when he got to the moon and the movie doesn’t show that. From what I heard the filmmakers didn’t want to show it because the feat wasn’t just an American accomplishment, it was a human one. That’s trash. It was an American accomplishment. There was literally a space race to the moon between the US and the Soviets and the flag planting was the crowning point of JFK’s desire to go to the moon. There’s no reason to have a personal agenda in a historical film, but it’s also hypocritical if you watch the flick. The film 100% shows it was the US vs. Mother Russia and that NASA was pissed when the Soviets beat them to everything, but the moon. Armstrong and the rest of astronauts wanted to beat the Soviets. The US wanted to beat the Soviets. Why take a stand on the flag planting when you show how much of it was about beating the Soviets? Makes no sense to add your own personal agenda while showing the truth at the same time.
I know it sounds like I’m slamming First Man more than praising it, but those things distracted me from what would be my favorite movie of the year. The NASA stuff is an intense, visceral ride with gorgeous shots and breathtaking scenery. Part of it feels huge in scope and other parts are tight and claustrophobic. I felt myself cheering and wanting to clap during so much of it. I didn’t see it in IMAX, but I can only imagine how impressive it would be. I wish the 25% that I didn’t enjoy wasn’t there or at least wasn’t as distracting. So much of the film is intense and powerful and then you get pulled away back into a storyline I personally didn’t find necessary. But as it is, the film is…
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Jason Clarke, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Ciaran Hinds, Christopher Abbott, Patrick Fugit, Lukas Haas
Director: Damien Chazelle
Writer: Josh Singer
Based on the Book by: James R. Hansen
Produced by: Wyck Godfrey, Marty Bowen, Damien Chazelle
Executive Producers: Steven Spielberg, Isaac Klausner, Adam Merims, Josh Singer