“First Man” is one of the more worthwhile experiences this year, not just because of its captivating portrayal of Neil Armstrong landing on the moon, but because of how it represents the fears and troubles society faced in the 1960s. The film is a time capsule of its era, using the moon landing as a focal point to show how Americans were so emotionally repressed at the time. Combine this with it’s commentary on how the majority of America was against landing on the moon until we got up there and you’ve got a film that sucks you into this dangerous and complicated time.
Ryan Gosling excels as Neil Armstrong, giving us a broken man that does not want to reach out and connect with others in his line of profession. He keeps his trauma as hidden as he can, but whether he knows it or not, that fear of losing the ones he cares about drives him to be greater than he is. Gosling is subtle in his gestures and mannerisms, but clearly wants to explode with emotions.
The visuals are stunningly beautiful, never once looking like CGI or like anything was done on a computer. From the scale and scope of the rockets to the vast reaches of the upper atmosphere, there is a lot to be impressed by in “First Man.” The set design compliments this, by always feeling cramped and claustrophobic in those tiny cockpits, while taking specific care to show how flimsy and poorly put together these rockets were, giving the audience an even bigger sense of dread as you realize these ships are probably held together with chewing gum and a lot of prayer. And yet, these are vessels that our heroes must rely on to get them through space.
“First Man” makes for a terrific companion piece to “The Right Stuff” and “Apollo 13” (watched in the order they were made), as they tell the vast range of the human struggle to get into space and become something more than we ever thought possible. All three detail the tragedy and hardships we realistically went through, without shying away from why each of these men would do something as crazy as venture out into space. “First Man” serves as the perfect ending to this tale, telling it from the perspective of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, showing that the challenges and losses of this movie and its brethren was not wasted.
Final Grade: B+