Cast: Ryan Gosling (Neil Armstrong), Corey Stoll(Buzz Aldrin), Pablo Schrieber (Jim Lovell), Shea Whighan(Gus Grissom),Christopher Abbott(David Scott), Jason Clarke (Ed White), Kyle Chandler(Deke Slayton), Lukas Haas (Michael Collins), John Whalen (John Glenn), Shawn Jones (Wally Schirra)
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Running Time: 141 Minutes
Release Date: October 12, 2018
Has the world ever been united? Yes, briefly on July 20, 1969 when a man stepped onto the Moon for the first time. The event was watched on TV and listened to on radio around the world.
First Man tells the story.
We begin with a stunningly confusing scene that pulls us right in as a pilot struggles with flying his plane. Only after he survives the crash do we learn this is Neil Armstrong in 1961, a test pilot of the experimental X-15. I had heard of the X-15 but never realized until this movie just how dangerous being a test pilot was.
Soon we learn his daughter, a toddler is dying of brain cancer. After her death, when he is offered time off, he refuses, saying he d rather work. He applies for and is accepted into the astronaut training program. He and his wife(Claire Foy) welcome the move as it means a fresh start. Soon they have a second child.
The movie covers the years up to 1969 as Neil Armstrong rises as an astronaut in training. We see just how difficult and dangerous the training was, especially when three astronauts are killed.
We see too what is forgotten today. Everything they were doing was being done for the first time. The entire space program was being invented. It s a magnificent tribute to the ingenuity and skill of all involved that it succeeded.
And, sadly, we see how much of the motivation was to beat the Russians. The Russians were first into space around the earth and the only thing left was to be first to fly to the moon. That motivation got the necessary funding but, while the film doesn t show it, it was also the reason the space program began to dwindle and face after the successful Moon landing. Yes, there were a few more flights, but the motivation to beat the Russians to the moon was no longer there and that s why it s been so many decades since the last flight.
Notice in my cast listing that it s all astronauts, but only a few of them. We should recognize and remember the names. Something I admire the director for is he tried to give several of the astronaut s wives actual parts but truly the film belongs to the astronauts in training. The movie does not touch on the fact that women trained as astronauts too but weren t allowed into the program. That s a separate story.
The title First Man means it is the story of Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon and this is where the movie has a problem. It is a wonderful movie except when it tries to focus on Armstrong s personal life. Apparently he was a very private person totally dedicated to his work. He had a happy marriage and two young sons. He did not show emotion in public. I wish the director had respected that and not tried to show him grieving for his daughter. Ryan Gosling does a superb job as Armstrong but still the movie slows during the personal scenes.
Worst of all, while the moon landing is shown and then the return to earth, it ends with Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin going into quarantine. This is true. I even remember it at the time. There was concern they might bring back germs from the moon. But to end there brings a great movie down with a thud. I truly wish the ending could be cut to end with the moon landing and return to earth.
So it s not quite a great movie. However, I recommend First Man highly. We need to know about the space program and what it accomplished.
There is also a very strong Arizona connection although it's not mentioned in the movie. Much of the training was done in Northern Arizona. Here is a link for any who would like the details.