When I first heard about First Man, I didn’t realize it was a biopic on Neil Armstrong. I thought it was just a space movie with cool visuals, and would be about the first man on Mars or something like that.
The poster is just really sexy like that.
Despite not knowing the real topic, I knew I was really excited. Damien Chazelle has yet to disappoint, with his first two big breaks being, well, big breaks. Whiplash was breath of fresh abuse, and La La Land is goddamn La La Land, my favorite movie of that year.
So yeah, let’s try a real person story about a space man!
A bunch of men that totally want to break out into dance, but can’t in this movie.
In the 1960’s, Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) became an Astronaut for the NASA program. He was already a test pilot for other companies as an engineer, not a military man, and he needed to get a new start. His daughter, Karen, had died when she was two, of some cancer. That sucks. That sucks a lot. He needed to get away.
Not just from the fact that his daughter died. But other friends as well. When doing science in the sky, and reaching the upper parts of the atmosphere, things can go wrong. They HAVE gone wrong for Armstrong, but he generally keeps a clear head on these sorts of things and lucks his way into not dying.
Is he afraid of dying? Is he ready to die? Is he afraid if he gets too close to people, he will become a wreck should they die in an accident? His wife (Claire Foy) loves him, and is helping raise their family, and is fully aware of the many risks of space travel. But she supports him, even when he is hard to reach. Physically, and emotionally.
And of course, eventually, Armstrong does some pretty impressive historical stuff.
Also starring a whole lot of white people. Most of them playing real white people too, I assume! Played by Pablo Schreiber, Christopher Abbot, Ethan Embry, Ciarán Hinds, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Shea Whigham, Olivia Hamilton, and Corey Stoll playing the Buzz Aldrin.
I assume this dance is not my tempo.
Chazelle started us out on his film trajectory by giving us people who wanted to achieve stardom at all costs. The next film also involved achieving stardom, but in a city full of stars, people who already made their life successful. And now, in this film, we still have that achievement desire behind the scenes, but instead of reaching a city of stars, it is a whole sky full of stars. An interesting path and one that is keeping Chazelle fresh by clearly trying very different things.
The most interesting aspect of this movie, to me, is that it isn’t really about the moon landing. It is called First Man. Why? Because it is about the First Man on the moon, not the successful events, just the person himself. Neil. Armstrong.
That might sound like a normal biographic movie, but I assure you, this one feels different. We see things from his point of view and mindset, without having to actually go into first person point of view. It is easy to feel the claustrophobic nature of the capsules. Of viewing the edge of space for the first time. To walking on the moon, to losing a child or friend, to having to make life saving decisions despite not knowing the right answer.
It is so damn personal and at the same time it is hard to connect to him. Armstrong comes across a very distant person, dealing with a lot on the inside and less likely to talk about his feelings or actually deal with the reality his job is creating. He is a humble person and a quiet person, not looking for fame, but looking for something else hard to pinpoint.
First Man is a great film, with terrific acting, and is likely to be a lock for several nominations, especially in the sound mixing areas this upcoming Oscars.
3 out of 4.