First Man

Damian Chazelle, Ryan Gosling and Claire Foye seems like it would be a winning combo. And it is! First Man screened at TIFF and announced that it was going to be one of 2018’s most talked about films.

July 20, 1969 Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling) became the first man to walk on the moon. History was made that day, but there was plenty that happened before that historic day. We follow the man from 1961-69 on the path to the moon. The science, effort and sacrifice is mind boggling.

Based on the book by James R. Hansen, the first trip to the moon in which man would walk upon it was a huge undertaking by the American government. Plus those at NASA. Not only that, but an incredibly dangerous mission for those men involved. We begin with Neil Armstrong beginning his career as a test pilot then training as NASA’s first civilian astronaut and progressing until he becomes the man in charge aboard the mission to the moon.

The mission is never an easy one as you would expect from something so historic. There are setbacks and plenty of missteps. Through it all Armstrong keeps his eyes on the prize never deviating one iota from his goal.

I am of two minds about Ryan Gosling. Sometimes I think he is a good actor while others I slot him into the Keanu Reeves category. Now, some out there mught be calling for the men with butterfly nets as they are concerned about my mental health but hear me out. Sometimes he takes on roles that all they ask of him is to act rather wooden. This one is partially in this category. Gosling plays Neil Armstrong as a rather serious man who is not a big talker. Lots of what goes on with Armstrong happens between his ears. The only method that Gosling has to portray that is body language or facial expressions. As a result many of the scenes he is in there is little dialogue from his end. But he accomplishes much with precious few words.

Playing off him is the excellent Claire Foy. As his wife Janet, she has a showier role. As quiet as Neil is is as personable as she was. Polar opposites make good couples they say. Definitely ying and yang here. Foy does a great job as the wife who tries to keep their family together after the death of their young 3-year-old daughter due to cancer and her sanity while realizing that her husband’s life dream could leave her a widow.

As you might expect the film is visually stunning. The realism and attention paid to detail is amazing. Just the pictures of the moon and all its shades of white and gray are breathtaking. Sound and visuals work together to make it seem (as much as possible) that you are sitting right there between Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (played by Corey Stoll).

Director Damian Chazelle should be applauded and it might be another film with him at the helm that earns a bunch of Oscar nominations. For Chazelle this also required an incredible change of pace from his previous largely music based films, Whiplash and La La Land.

A controversy has cropped up in regard to the no planting of the American flag on the surface of the moon. I think that is a lot of tunnel vision on the part of the complainers as there is plenty of flag in the film. The Stars and Stripes makes many appearances in First Man. It is quite patriotic in tone. Enough said about that.

Parts of the story will be familiar to many as it covers the whole race to the moon thing. The whole U.S. vs the Soviets competition. Still there is so much else to the story. That human element is what keeps it very interesting. We have to admire the dedication and bravery of those involved in the mission. Especially after we see the number of close calls to disaster that occured.

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