RATED - (PG-13) - 138-MIN-2018
First Man is fantastic and honors the brave who went into the dark of space.
I have always been fascinated by those pioneers that went into that great void of space, landed on a rock far away from our planet, and then came back, heroes to the world. After seeing (First Man), you will appreciate what they did even more. It really is stunning what they achieved, and (Damien Chazelle's) fabulous movie, lets you appreciate their accomplishment in another way, by cramming you there with those astronauts, time after time, in those little metal experimental death traps, as they tested first, the boundaries of our atmosphere, and then beyond. It is an amazing and awe-inspiring time in our history.
Right off the bat, when test pilot Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling, in a solemn and understated performance), is flying the X-15 rocket aircraft just above the atmosphere in the early sixties and can't seem to re-enter, as he keeps bouncing back, (Chazelle) puts you in there tight with the pilot. He wants you to feel every creak, every shake, every sound of metal being bent, and the dizzying speed these pilots were pushed to, as they tore through the air, and tried to rip into space. There are actually very few long shots in the movie, which at first surprised me, but as the film went on, that intimacy really draws you into how (Chazelle) wants to present his film.
Armstrong was well known to be a quiet and reserved man of few words, and early on, you see what contributed to this behavior, as we meet his family. Neil and his loyal, loving wife Jan ( a wonderful Claire Foy) have a young boy and a sick little girl, who is losing her battle with cancer. We see in moving sequences, punctuated by some memorable somber pieces by (Chazelle's) talented friend and composer (Justin Hurwitz ) how Neil, the engineer, tries to catalog and document her treatment, looking for an answer. He is a man of math and logic, and tragedy befuddles and changes him forever. How couldn't it? His family forges on but nothing is the same, and he is haunted by his daughter he lost.
It's the early sixties, and the Russians are beating the USA on every count into space. With President Kennedys' speech that the US will put a man onto the moon by the end of the decade, NASA, its scientists, and brilliant pilots, all convene to Houston to begin the long process of getting that done. All of the hopeful pilots live in the same neighborhood, and they gather for dinners and barbecues, with their children, and try to guess which ones will be first in line. As they progress through the Gemini missions leading up to the Apollo ones, we get to know some of these people, and we like them. They are brave for what they dare to do, and the families know and dread, the dangers that they face. You will know from history how some of the events turn out, but because (Chazelle) has invested some well-edited time with them, when tragedy strikes, it is heartbreaking. Just like (The Right Stuff) and (Apollo 13), there are some crazy test sequences that are as amusing, as much as you scratch your head, and wonder how somebody would actually let them do that to a human body, but (Chazelle) integrates them later to show how that training paid off, particularly, a white-knuckle moment, when Neil and his copilot try to the first-time dock with a craft above the Earth. It is a fabulous sequence.
(Gosling) has always intrigued me as an actor who thinks outside the box of his good looks in terms of roles, and tries new things. How close he gets to the real Neil Armstrong, I don't know, but his performance is compelling and it certainly makes you admire this man even more than you already did. All of the acting is just great, but the standouts for me were (Jason Clarke) as fellow pilot Ed White, (Patrick Fugit) as Elliot See, (the always good Kyle Chandler ) as Deke Slayton, and (Corey Stall) as a kind of dickish Buzz Aldrin. They fill the scenes and bring them to life. The look of the sixties is very well done, and all of the flight and test moments have a sharp contrast to the day shots, and a minimalistic, what the pilot's see darker space sequences. Frost and icicles form on the windows in space, so that's what you see instead of a clean shot of Earth or the Moon. Every time they secure another pilot into their module and lock the door, you will shudder. They were canaries in a coal mine.
Now, back to the way (Chazelle) shoots it. He goes in tight on his subjects, with a handheld approach that at first threw me, until I got a handle on what I think he was trying to convey. He is putting you there-in those intimate segments of worry and fear, as Neil and Jan struggle to hold their lives together, and then, those claustrophobic moments, up in the modules with the pilots, as anything that can go wrong, does. As we move closer and closer to that fateful date, the stakes get higher, more tragedy strikes, and protesters over the war and Congress are asking about wasting money on a useless space program.
But then...Tranquility Base...poetry.
I love the way this movie conveyed this important period in history and how it honored these amazing brave achievements with dignity and a heavy heart.
You should see this movie.
Watch the Trailer: