By Mark Saldana
Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)
Most people know that Neil Armstrong was the first person to set foot on the moon, but don’t ever consider how stressful and emotionally trying it was for him and his family to get there. The new film from acclaimed director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land) offers audiences an intimate and pensive look at the man who helped NASA defy the odds and got humanity to the lunar surface. As Armstrong, Ryan Gosling gives a restrained, but highly effective performance that wonderfully captures the personality of the soft-spoken, but highly intelligent astronaut.During the 1960s, aeronautical engineer and former Navy pilot Neil Armstrong worked diligently in many capacities at NASA to help advance the space program. From piloting dangerous test flights to actually traveling to space in the Gemini program, Armstrong courageously risked his life for the sake of this scientific advancement. Armstrong remained undaunted in his work and would eventually pilot that historic Apollo 11 mission in 1969. Working as a NASA astronaut was no easy feat for anyone, but for Armstrong it was definitely psychologically trying. He and his wife Janet (Claire Foy) had already suffered the tragic loss of a child, but as the loving couple remained stationed in Florida, they would also lose some friends and colleagues who perished in multiple tragic accidents.
Based on the biography First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, screenwriter Josh Singer and director Damien Chazelle have made an extraordinary film that takes a slightly more meditative approach to its subject and his perspective of the space program. Though the movie does have much in common with Philip Kaufman’s The Right Stuff, a film based on the early days of the space program, the focus of this movie is obviously more narrow in focus. Nevertheless, Singer and Chazelle have made a truly riveting film that reminds audiences of the courage and intelligence involved in getting humanity to space and beyond. It also calls to mind the emotional and psychological toll it takes on the participants of the space program and the families often left behind.
Make no mistake, Chazelle’s First Man is not all thoughts, prayers, calculations, and sad and bewildered looks. The director and his outstanding crew do an exceptional job to recreate not just the lows, but the harrowing excitement and the triumphant highs when things go beautifully. The director, cinematographer Linus Sandgren, editor Tom Cross and the effects crew have done some outstanding work to create scenes and sequences that are absolutely beautiful, intense and exhilarating. Every visual, dramatic beat and space travel sequence is gorgeously enhanced by Justin Hurwitz’s wonderful score.
The movie has a superb supporting cast that includes Pablo Schreiber, Christopher Abbott, Ethan Embry, Ciarán Hinds, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Shea Whigham, Patrick Fugit, Lukas Hass, and so much more. As I mentioned, Ryan Gosling is excellent in the lead role of Armstrong, but the real standout of the movie has to be Claire Foy who portrays Armstrong’s wife Janet. Foy gives a superb and sublime turn that exudes the strength, determination, passion and fear that the real Mrs Armstong had to endure this amazing, but challenging time. It is a performance which deserves much love and attention during awards season.
I also feel the same way about this film. Though, at this time, it wouldn’t my choice for best picture of the year, it really is one of the top movies so far. After taking on the arts in both Whiplash and La La Land, Damien Chazelle may have seemed like an unlikely choice for a movie about scientific advances. That couldn’t be further from the truth, though. Chazelle knocks another one out of the park with First Man and is sure to get some attention as well during awards season.