First Man

Rated 4.0

Space exploration movies and TV events based upon real missions, not surprisingly, have often made “the mission” the thrust of the plot. First Man goes a different route. It dares to focus on Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling in top form), the man at the center of the Apollo 11 mission, and what made him tick. It shows the familial struggles the man dealt with leading up to the mission and, most strikingly, his viewpoint, through his visor, as a bunch of workers clad in white packed him into a sardine can and blasted him off into space. It’s an amazingly intimate movie, considering the subject matter. Director Damien Chazelle (La La Land) doesn’t ignore the details of NASA’s build up to eventually planting Armstrong’s feet on the lunar surface. In fact, the film is one of the most scientifically intriguing I’ve seen when it comes to what astronauts go through and the mechanics of a space launch. What it also manages to be is a moving, often haunting, study of the sacrifices and enormous pain Armstrong went through to beat the Russians to the moon landing punch. I confess to not knowing that Armstrong lost his young daughter to cancer in 1962, seven years before his legendary flight. Appropriately, that event is as central an occurrence as the moon landing in this movie. This film is about Armstrong’s sacrifices, hardships and the enormous psychological and physiological tortures he went through in that decade leading up to Apollo 11. In turn, it’s a testament to every man and woman who risked their lives and left families and histories behind on the big blue marble in the name of the space race.