Rob Reviews "First Man"
Damien Chazelle and Ryan Gosling have teamed up again for not only the director’s first film not to be music-based but also the first time he has not directed material he wrote himself. Using James R. Hansen’s “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong” as source material, the abbreviated title of “First Man” stars Gosling in the title role along with Claire Foy as his wife Janet alongside an all-star cast with the likes of Pablo Schreiber, Ethan Embry, Lukas Haas, Ciaran Hinds, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Patrick Fugit, Shea Whigham, Corey Stoll, And Cory Michael Smith.
Focusing mostly on the decade of the ‘60s leading up to the Apollo 11 moon landing mission, this film is not just about Armstrong’s journey from test pilot to astronaut. Honestly, that part of it functions more as a background to the actual story here of Armstrong’s family life as he works through the loss of his young daughter to a tumor, some of his friends due to the danger of their line of work, and even how he deals with his peers and family through it all.
The odd thing for me about “First Man” is that I was not blown away in the traditional sense by this film. Although I enjoyed it on every level, there was not that sense of awe and wonder that I expected to feel when I left the theater, but I also believe that was not Chazelle’s intention here. He, Gosling, and three of the children of men portrayed in the film (two were Armstrong’s sons) actually did a short Q&A after our screening, and I thought it was interesting that the director started to make a film about space travel but wound up having it be so much more about his family and how they were affected by his job and their surroundings. Adding to that the stories from the families themselves about how well they were protected from the dangers their fathers faced on a consistent basis, and I was able to gain a different perspective on the legend and myth that is the first man to put down a foot on our moon.
Visually, this film is nothing short of stunning, from the set design of Nathan Crowley to the amazing effects that make the “action” part of the story that much more real, this is two and a half hours that moves quickly. Gosling and Foy work very well together, with Gosling playing Armstrong in a way that is in direct contrast to Stoll’s Buzz Aldrin. I was not aware how reserved the man really was, especially to be alongside his boisterous and often inappropriate shipmate as they set forth to create history.
Being a guy that has been fascinated with the space program for as long as I can remember, “First Man” captured me on a number of levels and may have relit a passion for it that I have not had in a long time. This film made me want to go back and revisit the great “The Right Stuff” just to get some more background on the stories themselves and perhaps at some point to pick up at least either that or this book to get a deeper dive. Chazelle has done it again with a film that is nothing short of brilliant.