first man

There are two things that “First Man” made me realize. One, I apparently didn’t know enough about what it took to even get NASA to a position where they could send people to the Moon. Two, I apparently really didn’t know much about Neil Armstrong. Alright, there’s a third thing. Three, this wasn’t the movie I was expecting going into it, and that’s not a bad thing.

To my surprise, this movie is actually less about the moon landing, and so much more about the life of Neil Armstrong. I suppose I should have figured that out with the title of the movie, but if there was any doubt, this is definitely a biopic of the man. Ryan Gosling gets to play the role of Armstrong here and he is simply phenomenal in it. There’s a lot of nuance involved with how to portray this specific man who mostly keeps his emotions in check, and Gosling nailed it.

As it goes with biopics, I usually complain about how they aren’t always good with a story that spans several years, and put all that into a cohesive narrative with proper pacing. Thankfully this movie managed to pull it off. The plot progression from the beginning years all the way to that historical day of the moon landing, all felt natural and engaging. There’s still a sense that time passes, but without sacrificing the integrity of the development of this specific premise that balances between Neil Armstrong and the NASA space program. With that said, I did have my issues on how the last few acts played out, but thankfully they didn’t break the movie for me.

With the Direction of Damien Chazelle, this film felt very intimate and personal with the story. There are mostly close up shots of the characters, which only emphasized that this is about the people involved in this story, and less about the technical aspects of how we send people into the Moon. There are still some jargon and historically technical plot details surrounding the space program of course; and they are fascinating, but those do take a back seat to the main emotional core and weight of Neil Armstrong’s story.

It’s easy to think about the Moon landing in the broad historical way, but usually we may ignore the human aspects of how we reached that goal. “First Man” hopes to change all that by using the story of Neil Armstrong; who and what he represents, to ground us into fully appreciating the blood, sweat, and tears, behind that achievement. I really enjoyed this more human drama telling of this journey to the moon, and it’s a fresh take that I’m glad I got to experience.

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