Do you know Neil Armstrong? Of course you know him as the first man to ever walk on the moon, but do you actually know anything else about him? About his life? About his family? About what he was like?
Damien Chazelle’s new movie “First Man” sets out to educate audiences about a man we all know, yet know nothing about. And Ryan Gosling happens to play that man.
It’s clear from the first few scenes that this story is not going to focus primarily on the moon landing — after all, the movie is called “First Man.” Chazelle explores the family life of Armstrong and how his work and journeys to space as an astronaut affected his home life.
The story spans almost the entire decade of the 1960s (yet Claire Foy, who plays Armstrong’s wife Janet, surprisingly never gets a different haircut), beginning in 1961 and ending with the moon landing in 1969. Early in his astronaut career, Armstrong’s daughter Karen died of a brain tumor when she was 2 years old. The movie shows how haunted Armstrong is by this death, and how the event impacted all areas of his life, whether in his role as an astronaut, husband or father of two boys. This helps to humanize Armstrong; he was just an ordinary man who did something extraordinary.
This movie does a lot of things right. For starters, the performances by Gosling and Foy are definitely Oscar worthy. Gosling does an excellent job portraying a troubled man who is trying to be present in his family life, yet is also using his work to escape from his world (both literally and figuratively.) As the movie progresses, he gets further and further from the people he loves and puts up more walls around him as his fellow astronauts and friends are killed. Foy plays a woman trying to connect with her husband and hold her family together; she expresses frustration, exasperation and support very well (I also love how she yells at men a lot).
Speaking of Oscar-worthy, this movie will definitely be in the race this season. The cinematography is beautiful — the picture throughout the film is grainy and saturated, just like how a camera in the 1960s would be. There’s also a documentary feel throughout, as the camera is shaky and does a lot of zooming to characters’ faces. Also, the special effects are out of this world. I’ve never personally been to the moon or space, but the effects look perfect.
The movie clocks in at over two hours, and the story does drag on. All the scenes are long, and the movie could have been shortened to make the plot go a little quicker. The journey to the moon — which should be the climax of the movie — was slow and took a long time. The redeeming part of the slow Apollo 11 journey is the music, which gets more intense to build up to the landing.
Overall, the movie is solid. The story shows much about the character of Armstrong and just how much work, pain and sacrifice went into taking the first step on the moon.