Though this is a long movie (2 hours 18 minutes), you will value every moment as you watch it.
Directed by Damien Chazelle, who won an Oscar last year in this category for La La Land, First Man is a brilliant film recreating a time in our past that should not be forgotten. It follows the adventures of Neil Armstrong from 1961 to his landing on the moon in 1969, and it recreates a period where the NASA program captured the attention of our country as it was dragged through the trauma of the Vietnam War along with the assassinations of JFK, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King.
As expected, Ryan Gosling gives a tremendous performance as the dedicated, laconic Neil Armstrong. He was a man of little emotion, and nobody captures that personality trait better than Mr. Gosling.
I saw this film at the IMAX Museum in downtown Indianapolis and I recommend that you find a way to see it on the big screen. First and foremost, the film puts you in various space capsules along with Armstrong and his colleagues, and director Chazelle does a marvelous job recreating an experience where astronauts had to remain emotionally stable as they consistently danced on the edge of death.
What made these astronauts so legendary was the fact that death was always dancing on their front door. One of the most emotional moments in the film involves the death of Armstrong’s young daughter as a result of cancer, and you will nearly cry as hard as he did as he rushed to a private room during the gathering following her funeral. Furthermore, put aside the criticism of this film for failing to show Armstrong planting an American Flag on the moon and watch what he released into a large crater in the name of his daughter. Those moments alone will make you treasure the memory of Neil Armstrong.
However, the sacrifices of the Apollo astronauts stunned America with the death of Gus Grissom and his two colleagues when fire consumed their test capsule. While Shea Whigham is quite good in a small role as Mr. Grissom, Jason Clarke gives a splendid performance as Edward White, one of Grissom’s companions who died in the explosion. Mr. White was a close friend of Armstrong’s, and his wife Pat (Olivia Hamilton) was the first person that Janet Armstrong (Claire Foy, more later) met when the family moved to Houston. After the death of Mr. White, wait until you see the interaction of these two women as Mrs. White stood stone-faced as she stared into the distance behind the open trunk of her car.
But while there were a lot of other wonderful performances from Pablo Schreiber as Jim Lovell, Kyle Chandler as Deke Slayton, Ciarán Hinds as Gene Kranz, Ethan Embry as Pete Conrad, Corey Stoll as Buzz Aldrin, Christopher Abbott as Dave Scott, Cory Michael Smith as Roger Chaffee and Lukas Haas as Mike Collins, it was Claire Foy as Janet Armstrong that elevated this film from good to great. Unforgettable in her Emmy winning performance in The Crown, here she is a powerful woman trying to raise two boys as she watches her husband leave each day with the thought that she may never see him again. She reveals the strength that characterizes an average American woman, and I cannot wait to see her playing Lisbeth Salander in the soon to be released The Girl in the Spider’s Web.
Ironically, no one was more delighted with Armstrong landing on the moon than Edward Kennedy, who drove off the Chappaquiddick Bridge on the same day. But millions of people around the world watched in awe as Armstrong took “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” It makes you wish that our government would start aggressively refunding the NASA program so that we could again pursue our adventure into outer space.