There have been a lot of films based on space travel. But non-fiction films based on space travel? The library is limited.
‘First Man’ explores the most successful journey on record, the 1969 Apollo 11 Moon Landing. And it’s as fascinating as you’d expect. But instead of focusing entirely on the drama of the space race in the 1960’s, even though it does a darn fine job of portraying the enormity of the situation, this is as much a movie about Neil Armstrong, the captain of the mission. He’s a complicated guy, which seems fitting….’cause, as ‘First Man’ effectively shows, this was one complicated task.
Ryan Gosling, in an understated yet piercing performance as Armstrong, re-teams with director Damien Chazelle (‘La La Land’) for ‘First Man’. It’s an interesting plan; last time these guys worked together, it was all about Gosling bursting off the screen with energy, while here, he’s playing an introvert, a tough man to get to know. Armstrong, battling grief, said little, shunned the spotlight, and essentially defined ‘strong silent type’. Yet, as far as historical figures go, he’s a giant. And somehow, with seemingly not a ton to go on, these guys nail it. If ever a movie carried silent power, this is it.
‘First Man’ is mindful of its pace (i.e., it can be a bit slow at times), yet has that rare ability to keep you glued to the screen, whether it’s focused on Armstrong’s family life (Claire Foy, who plays his wife, is amazing), the build-up to launch and the lost lives that go with it, or the dizzying footage in space.
Authenticity is obviously a key, which alone makes ‘First Man’ a must-see. But the human element, combined with the IMAX approach to the lunar adventure, is the primary appeal of the motion picture. You might not be ridiculously entertained by ‘First Man’, but you will emerge hopefully more educated on the sacrifice made by those involved….and inevitably moved. It’s a pretty cool package.