Review: First Man

Anyone who went to see First Man hoping to see lots of content focusing on American patriotism, celebration of American ingenuity, and an all-around nostalgic look at what made the United States so awesome, is going to be a little disappointed. 
The film does not really focus on the aspects that people fondly reflect on when they mimic President Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again”. This film chose to focus on something else. The film looks beyond what is written in the history books, and whatever was put out by NASA’s public relations department. 
Everyone knows about the moon landing. Everyone knows Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon. We all know what his first words were. We know that the race to reach the moon sparked years of competition between America and the Soviets, and America ultimately won, and an American flag was planted on the moon, and America is awesome. But this movie is about people and emotions. 
The movie open with Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) flying his X-15 rocket plane to an altitude of 140,000 kilometres. A piloting mistake results in Neil “bouncing” his aircraft off of Earth’s atmosphere, causing it to reach dangerously higher altitudes. He manages to regain control and safely re-enter the atmosphere and land in the Mojave Desert. His colleagues suspect that this latest in a string of mishaps may be due to personal distractions and move to have him grounded. 
Those personal distractions have to do with his 2 year old daughter Karen who has been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Treatments end up being unsuccessful, and she soon dies. This is just one of many emotional behind-the-scenes moments that your run-of-the-mill space travel enthusiast will be surprised to learn about (I was one of them). 
With his daughter gone, and is career as a test pilot now in jeopardy from the possibility of being grounded, he decides to accept an offer to apply to the Gemini Space program. He is accepted and moves with his family to Houston. Once there, he befriends two fellow astronauts Elliot See (Patrick Fugit) and Ed White (Jason Clarke). During this time he welcomes a second son with his wife Janet (Claire Foy). 
While the events of the space race, and the missions flown by NASA, are hardly ignored in the film, they seem almost regulated to a B-plot. The true focus of the film is on the emotional turmoil of Neil, his fellow astronauts and the effect on their families as reality of the life-threatening dangers involved in space travel become more apparent. It starts with the obscure death of Neil’s friend Elliot See in an airplane crash. Then moves on to the much more well-known disaster of Apollo 1, which took the lives of three astronauts including Gus Grissom and Ed White. A tragedy that gets referred to quite ominously in a conversation between Neil and Ed where they discuss Ed’s good fortune to be chosen for Gus’ Apollo 1 team. 
The only space missions that are shown are the two most significant ones that Neil Armstrong was a part of. Gemini 8, the first successful docking with another spacecraft in orbit. A mission that almost ended in disaster when they ending up going into a rapid spin. Then, of course, Apollo 11. The time spent on the lunar surface is the part that everyone knows the most about, but it’s the part that is focused on the least. The film makers chose to not film a scene of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planting the American flag. Something that people may consider to be controversial, but if you pay attention to the movie, planting a flag was probably not the most emotional part of the trip for Armstrong. 
Casting was clearly most focused on who was going to play Neil Armstrong, and Ryan Gosling does an excellent job. You can already tell there is going to be some Oscar buzz surrounding him. He’s shown us that he doesn’t just have to play a sexy, steamy, charming love interest with an impressive set of abs.
So a word to any women who go to see this film with the intention of mooning over their favourite Hollywood heart throb, they will find very little to drool over. I don’t know if he gained weight for the role, or wore prosthetics, but he was definitely had the look of having a “Dad Bod”. 
The only other character who gets any significant focus is Claire Foy as Armstrong’s wife. Foy does an excellent job portraying the frustration and helplessness of a wife who can only stay at home with her children everyday trying to shield them from the knowledge that there’s always a chance their father may not come home one day. 
I was surprised by how little the character of Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) was used in the film. Except for the moon landing scene, he’s little more than a cameo. It doesn’t seem like they put too much thought into casting the role. There was nothing wrong with Stoll’s acting, but when Buzz Aldrin played himself in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”, he was sporting more hair than the actor who is playing him at a time when he was 40 years younger. 
In terms of the film’s genre, it gets top marks. It’s very emotional, heartfelt and real. Anyone who sees this movie will never think of Neil Armstrong in the same way again. As for mass appeal, it’s clearly not geared towards the younger crowd. Perhaps the reason Gosling landed the role was in the hopes it would draw some viewers who were born after the 1970s. I’m guessing this because when I went to see the movie, I was the youngest person in the theatre by about 20 to 25 years…and I’m 42. I mean, sure, I went on a Tuesday afternoon, but the movie had only been out for 4 days. There are still unemployed 20-year-olds and college students who go to movies at those times too. 
Overall, it’s a great movie, with superb acting and special effects that’s definitely worth watching.

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