|Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong (Universal)|
In 2016, director Damien Chazelle set out to create a modern musical movie that paid tribute to the classic ones who came before it in La La Land starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. That film won six Academy Awards. This weekend, his epic Neil Armstrong picture, First Man opens in theaters and also stars Gosling in yet another winning performance. Based on the book by James R. Hansen and written by Josh Singer (Spotlight, The Post) First Man aims to show the struggles and costs associated when dealing with one of the most dangerous missions on earth and in the heavens with much of it from Armstrong’s point of view … and a lot of close-ups.
Almost poetically, Singer explores the subject of grief along with the excitement of landing on the moon for the first time, but it was Ryan that encouraged Chazelle to present “the kitchen and the moon” approach to the film showing the big and small moments that happened in the lives of the Armstrong family during this multi-year journey. And he did that with a lot more close-up scenes than one would expect from a space travel movie. Throughout the film, the camera zooms in on Gosling’s eyes and then his view from his pilot’s seat looking out of the window. There isn’t much to see out there, but with the sound of his frantic breathing, the whole effect makes you feel as if you are riding along beside him.
First Man, which spans from 1961 to 1969, has a documentary “you are there” vibe to it. Surprisingly, there isn’t a lot of dialogue in the film letting the pictures speak louder than words. The film also shies away from having a perfect Hollywood look to it. The Armstrong home, at least as portrayed here, was very modest. The family, normal. The marriage, a bit strained.
|Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy|
First Man also stars Jason Clarke as Ed White, Olivia Hamilton as Pat White, Matthew Glave as Chuck Yeager, Corey Stoll as Buzz Aldrin, Pablo Schreiber as Jim Lovell, Shea Whigham as Gus Grissom, Ethan Embry as Pete Conrad, Patrick Fugit as Elliott See, Christopher Abbott as David Scott and Skyler Bible as Richard F. Gordon.
|A familiar scene in the movie.|
First Man is also unlike similar movies in another way. While no doubt triumphant, the film still manages to tell the story in a somber tone and without a lot of fanfare. Over the years, the Armstrong’s lost friends who died while working on the space program. At one point, Janet tells a friend that they got really good at funerals. I understand the great achievement that was made with the space program, but after watching the film and seeing the toll it took on the Armstrong family (and the other astronauts as well) I have to wonder if it was all worth it.