First Man review
If there's anything that my father loves talking about is spaceflight and the Apollo missions to the moon. Given his age, he lived through the sixties as a child and saw astronauts like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin as idols that were able to push the frontier and visit the moon. Most people know that the whole point to get to the moon was to simply do it before the Soviets would have. Of course they never made it, but it was still such an accomplishment to be able to get people to the moon and back.
Now we've had movies about this before, though the most well known is the Ron Howard film, Apollo 13. In an essence, I can see that story being more attractive as it was, to quote NASA, "A successful failure". Apollo 11 was a mission that went right from the beginning to the end. Like a lot of great innovations, most people don't know the work and struggle it took to reach them. In the case of space, the pressure was greater as they were working to beat the Soviet Union to the moon. First Mandetails the accounts of NASA's working to reach the moon and Neil Armstrong's perspective.
NASA test pilot Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling) is reserved, but hard working as he is willing to push boundaries to achieve scientific achievement. He is just as willing to do everything to try and save his sick daughter, but fails as she dies from a brain tumor. This makes him more willing to dive into his work, not wanting much sympathy from his colleagues. In the process he applies and makes it as an astronaut in the Project Gemini program, causing he and his family to relocate to Houston, Texas where the other astronauts live. With the support of his wife Janet, he provides whatever help he can to get NASA further.
He's assigned to Gemini 8, where they are hoping to make the possibility of docking work. The mission is a success and even manages to stop their ship from spinning when trying to make it home. This gives NASA lead way to start the Apollo program where his friend Ed White is assigned. Unfortunately, the launch fails as a fire kills all members of Apollo 1. For the new Apollo 11 mission, Armstrong is selected to command it along with Buzz Aldrin (Played by Corey Stoll) and Jim Lovell (played by Pablo Schreiber).
Director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land) is clearly passionate about this era, because First Man takes a part of history and takes it's audience on a thrilling adventure. Movies like The Right Stuff, Apollo 13 and Hidden Figuresmay have been great representations of NASA's accomplishments, but First Mandoes add an element not present before; gritty reality. While the previous movies list did show how hard things were, the cinematography really puts us within the perspectives of these astronauts, showing how tight and how little visibility they had when piloting these rockets and machines. It reminds me of a horror movie because being a pioneer can be scary; space is unpredictable and it was amazing that it was done given their conditions.
Many of the camera angles are done from a first person perspective, giving us the audience Neil Armstrong's uncertain road ahead of him. We know he made it, but the movie does a great job of making us forget about that. My favorite has to be his walk through the NASA halls before he's strapped in for his Gemini mission. I felt that same sweat dripping from my neck that I'm sure astronauts still have today.
I should mention Ryan Gosling and his performance. In short, it's also great. You get an immediate sense that Neil Armstrong is such a stoic and humble individual that his personality could have easily come off as boring. Ryan Gosling can often do that, but you get a sense that he's just as passionate about his job as the other astronauts. Armstrong was simply more reserved and movies rarely portray these types of people. I myself am typically reserved and hope this movie shows that we have passion; like Armstrong, were just selective about who can witness our vulnerability.
I'll give this five Apollo pictures out five. First Manis without a doubt one of the best movies of 2018. It's fascinating, thrilling, thought provoking, and showcases another side of history that even when we succeed, we always need to be ready to fail so that we learn from it and not repeat those mistakes. The Apollo missions have always seemed like a million in one odds-type success stories. First Manwas a story with those odds and pulled a happy success. Take the launch and see this movie.