It takes great talent and skill to tell a story we think we already know with an outcome that is also believed to be well known and make it compelling. With the film First Man Director, Damien Chazelle (AA Whiplash, 10 Cloverfield Lane, AA La La Land) demonstrates he has the talent and skill on this front.
First Man presents us the life of Astronaut Neil Armstrong and the American Space Program through his eyes from 1961-1969. First Man is superb if only viewed for the production values, visual effects, sound, and music score. However, that would be underselling First Man to a great degree. All of the actors playing the roles of people involved in Gemini and Apollo Mission are believable and additive. Josh Singer’s (The West Wing, AA Spotlight, The Post) screenplay provides just enough depth and breath to pull this off. Singer accomplishes the same with injecting aspects about what was going on with America in general at the time as well. Singer also provides in a nuanced manner aspects about the relationship between Armstrong and his Wife (Janet).
Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson, Lars and the Real Girl, Fracture) is superb as Armstrong. Neil Armstrong was ultimately known as a person of strong internalized belief in one’s self that was constantly challenged with melancholy. As in Lars and the Real Girl, Gosling pulls this aspect off with outstanding effect. Gosling is so understated in the role, his successful portrayal is at risk of going unnoticed. Claire Foy (The Crown, Unsane, The Girl in the Spider’s Web) plays the role of Janet Armstrong with equal effect.
However, the production values of First Man is what shines brightest. Chazelle and the Production team have created a film that is highly immersive and convincing. You often feel as if you are the one in an out of control test vehicle, sitting strapped into a space ship experiencing the G-Force associated with being on top of the the most powerful rocket ever built to this day (Saturn V) or landing on the moon. What may also jump out in this era of IPhone’s and self driving cars, is the archaic nature of technology in the 1960’s versus today.
The combination of all factors important to the success of a film exist in First Man.
Jeff’s Worthless Trivia and Other Thoughts
I am fortunate to possess the signatures of the three astronauts involved with the 1st Moon Landing on the same piece of paper; Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. It was given to me by my father. I was infatuated with the Manned Space Program as a young boy. My Dad, given his position as Managing Editor of the Detroit News, loved what the space program was about and devoted big coverage to it. After quarantine was completed, he asked the three of them to sign it for me.