Director Damien Chazelle directs Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong in First Man from Universal Pictures. Spanning eight years, First Man is the latest movie to tackle the space race. As opposed to making a fluff piece, screenwriter Josh Singer adapts James R Hansen's official biography "First Man: The Life of Neil Armstrong." From the moment the film starts, it is clear that director Chazelle and Singer want to humanize Armstrong.
The duo succeeds with ease, due in part to Gosling's portrayal. Gosling portrays Armstrong as a traditional alpha male who wants to win by any means. Given the time in which First Man is set, this portrayal makes sense, but there are moments where Gosling breaks down and shows emotion throughout the film. This is evident in scenes with Neil's wife Janet (Claire Foy), who generally cares for her husband and admires his drive, but would not mind if he were home more.
A scene that stands out in the film involves Janet telling Neil he needs to talk to his sons and inform them that he may not return from a particular mission. Claire Foy knocks it out of the park with this scene. And we understand the character of Janet was holding these feelings in for a while. I was also fond of Gosling's banter with Jason Clarke and Kyle Chandler, who portray fellow astronauts. However, the highlight for me outside of Gosling has to be Corey Stoll as Buzz Aldrin, who provided some much-needed comic relief throughout the film.
Cinematically the real star of First Man is the effects. Damien Chazelle used IMAX cameras to shoot the film's climax when Neil makes it to the moon, and it was beautiful to see on screen. I also enjoyed the training sequences and the sounds of the rockets going into orbit. I highly advise you to see First Man on the most giant screen to experience Chazelle's vision.
I would also like to debunk the rumor that the film does not feature the American Flag on screen. Throughout the film, American Patriotism is prevalent, and one of the key themes is beating the Soviets. While the film does not show Neil carrying the Flag and placing it on the moon, the Flag does appear. With the story that Damien Chazelle is telling, the flag planting was unnecessary, as First Man is more about Neil's journey as a man.
While there is a lot to like about First Man, leaving the theater, I came to the realization the film was missing something to make it great for me, as opposed to just decent. Chazelle directed two of my favorite music-based films of the last fourteen years, Whiplash & La La Land. So maybe my expectations were too high. It may have been the film's running time, as it tends to drag. While the filmmaker's approach was to humanize Neil, that storytelling aspect may have come across better as a miniseries. The lack of characterization for anyone besides Neil is evident and somewhat hurts the final product.
Nevertheless, despite not being blown away by First Man, I still recommend seeing it during an early IMAX show. The film's climactic moments are worth the admission price alone; it is just too bad the rest of the film is not as strong.
Final Grade C+