First Man

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Swanner:  First Man follows the life of Neil Armstrong from 1961, where we find him working in the space program, to 1969 when he became the first man to walk on the moon. Ryan Gosling plays Armstrong as a devoted family man till his young daughter dies. After that tragedy we see him pull away from his wife and family to focuses on the Gemini and Apollo missions. Damien Chazelle (La La Land) directs from the script by Josh Singer (Spotlight) based on James R. Hansen’s novel.

I can see that the film wanted to bring focus to how hard it was for the families: with so many astronauts never coming home. Claire Foy plays Armstrong’s wife, Janet. We see her angst, but through most of the movie she’s in a house dress, nervously smoking, with only a few really good scenes. In those scenes she is very good, as is the rest of the supporting cast.

It looks like Chazelle and Singer wanted to show the personal moments for the astronauts, so when it’s time to take off, we’re inside the capsule to see how lonely and frighting it must have been. It was very effective, but for an impatient audience, it caused a lot of stirring in the seats. The film is all about Neil Armstrong and Gosling does a great job with it. I just would have liked to have seen everything just a bit tighter, and bring that 239 minutes down to an edge of your seat 150 minutes.

I do realize that most of the people seeing this film probably weren’t born when the moon landing took place. I remember the day very well. I was barbecuing dinner while my family sat glued to the TV. I grew up in a time where movies and TV were all about space, so it didn’t seem special to me. I do remember the screams of excitement, once Armstrong stepped on to the moon, coming from my house and every other house within shouting distance. I hope the 3rd act of this film gives the same thrill to those young people who only know this story as a chapter in their history books.

Swanner:  3 stars

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