1969: Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and his two young sons talk about his upcoming Apollo moon-landing mission: “Dad, are you coming back?” “I have confidence in the mission.” “But are you coming back?” “I don’t know.” Then, after an awkward pause: “Does anyone have any other questions?” “First Man” is Neil Armstrong’s bio-pic — his story from 1961 to the July 20, 1969, moon landing, with special emphasis on the life-and-death dangers of space travel and how he dealt with them in his modest, quiet inward way.
Will “First Man” convince you how incredibly scary space travel must have been? Will you admire Neil Armstrong’s matter-of-fact coolness in life-threatening outer space emergencies? I did.
As family man/astronaut Neil Armstrong, Ryan Gosling is excellent. He reveals Armstrong’s strong ties to his family and quiet resolve to accomplish whatever tasks are set before him. He has a dry sense of humor, at least from time to time, but does not share his feelings easily. “Do you think I’m standing alone out here in the back yard,” he says to a friend after the funeral of a colleague, “because I want to talk to somebody?” In this respect, he is unlike Janet, his wife, played well by Claire Foy, who does not hold back her frustrations and anger. Fearing for Neil, who’s in danger, testing a newly designed but malfunctioning spacecraft, she tells NASA officials, “You’ve got nothing under control! You’re a bunch of boys with models made out of balsa wood! Nothing is under control!”
Others in the large and talented cast include Corey Stroll as Buzz Aldrin, Armstrong’s moon-walking companion, Shea Whigham as astronaut Gus Grissom, Lukas Haas as Mike Collins, Apollo 11’s command module pilot, and Olivia Hamilton as Pat White, wife of astronaut Ed White (Jason Clarke).
“First Man” is extraordinary and immersive filmmaking. Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”) does it again, with first rate help from his colleagues, especially cinematographer Linus Sandgren, whose close-up, point-of-view and shaky hand-held camera work is unrelenting and unnerving, putting us in those claustrophobic space capsules with Armstrong and his fellow astronauts. Thanks also to Josh Singer for his smart script, from James R. Hansen’s book, and composer Justin Hurwitz who quietly helps us follow the story and — importantly — knows when silence tells the story better, as in the final sequence when Armstrong and Aldrin walk the moon’s surface.
Rated PG-13 for thematic peril and brief strong language, “First Man” runs 138 minutes. It’s Oscar-ready and a must-see.
“First Man” is Armstrong bio,
Favorite son from Ohio;
Modest man born in Wapak;
Great filmmaking — Oscar lock!