I remember sitting with my parents, watching TV, and seeing someone walk on the moon. It was a moment I’ll never forget. And for all you idiotic conspiracy theorists out there, the moon landing wasn’t staged, it wasn’t ‘directed’ by Stanley Kubrick, and it wasn’t faked either. THIS movie sets things right. Period. End of discussion.
Neil Armstrong. Any kid growing knows that name by heart; the first man to walk on the moon, Apollo 11, and the Gemini program. In this movie, we follow his career through his eyes, starting from his shockingly dangerous test flight in 1962, where he nearly bought the farm. Neil (Ryan Gosling), emotionless, calculating, and carrying the baggage of his recently deceased baby girl, has set his sites on NASA’s Gemini program–a stepping stone to the future Apollo program and the moon.
Trying to be the good housewife and his partner is Janet (Claire Foy), but with all his training and increasing time away from home, their marriage is put to the test. Neil, single-minded and of little words, gets into the Gemini program with his fellow “Gemini 7” brethren and soon he’s settling down in Florida with the other soon-to-be astronauts. He meets his new neighbors and friends, Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll), Jim Lovell (Pablo Schreiber), and Ed White (Jason Clarke).
Training is super-tough and lives are lost, especially the tragic deaths of friends during the testing of Apollo One. But Neil perseveres nonetheless, despite his wife wanting him to open up more. There’s even MORE training, catastrophe’s, and finally Neil gets the news he’s wanted—he’s going to the moon! Together with Buzz and Lovell, the final 30 minutes of the movie is the actual flight to the moon and the landing, not to mention Neil’s famous flubbed line, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.
Based on the book, First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen, screen-writer Josh Singer (The Post, Spotlight) knows a thing or two about adapting true-life stories for the screen. Both his The Post & Spotlight screenplays had bite, wit, a sense of purpose, and won many awards. For some reason, Singer opted to convert this story to a more antiseptic, cold, and mundane by-the-numbers docu-story. Probably because you had Damien Chazelle as director.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Chazelle’s Whiplash was a cinematic masterpiece in writing & directing, and I thought his La La Land really should have won Best Picture that year, BUT what the hell happened here? Using an extraordinary amount (and overuse) of a hand-held camera, you get practically an entire film like the Blair Witch Project; all irritating shaky-cam. Plus, Chazelle seems to fixated on EXTREME close-ups and everyone’s eyes in this picture for some odd reason. What’s up with that? He spends SO much time with the technical side of NASA, that the personal lives of the men & women gets lost, something explored to better lengths in The Right Stuff.
Gosling portrays Armstrong as rigid, non-compromising, and almost void of emotion, while Foy gets to act circles around him, beautifully showing off those huge blue eyes to great effect. If you read about the REAL Neil Armstrong, you’ll find out how off this movie was, but what do you expect from a “based on true events” film. The one thing this movie DOES have going for it is the spectacular attention to detail. All the space suits, modules, capsules, and rockets are dazzling and filming inside the capsules is just about as claustrophobic and scary as if you were inside them.
First Men in the Moon (1964)