The Right Stuff, the 1983 film about NASA’s Mercury astronauts, set the gold standard for space program bio-pics. It was a well-made, exciting, insightful, educational and entertaining movie that perfectly captured a special moment in American history. The new film, First Man, is all of those things, but not so much on the “exciting” part. It’s rather like The Right Stuff on sleeping pills.
This movie is based on the book by James R. Hansen, First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, and documents the story of Astronaut Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), from his days as a test pilot to his becoming the first man to walk on the moon.
I don’t know what Armstrong was like in real life, but I know that in this movie Gosling portrays him as an extremely low-key kind of guy; which is a fine personality trait, but not one that necessarily makes for a great cinematic experience. The film, in general, is almost anti-celebratory (and I’m not even talking about the “American flag controversy,” of which I think was handled perfectly fine by director Damien Chazelle.)
There are a couple of moments of high-drama, but, let’s face it, we all know how this story ends. Although there is one very touching and surprising moment late in the film that reveals the driving force behind Armstrong, and that scene alone (true to life or not) is so touching that it is worth the price of admission.
The acting highlight here is Claire Foy’s outstanding performance as Neil’s wife, Janet Armstrong. Corey Stoll also does a great job playing Armstrong’s annoying Apollo partner, Buzz Aldrin; and actor Lukas Haas rounds out the film’s Apollo 11 crew as the Command Module Pilot, Mike Collins.
The special effects in this movie are good and the lunar surface shots were spectacular. There were a few shaky camera shots while the actors were standing on solid ground that seemed weirdly out of place, but the cinematography here is otherwise first-rate.
While First Man is not a “giant leap” for space-themed cinema, it is worth watching – if you can keep your eyes open.
Photos Copyright © 2018 Universal Studios