While the whole world knows Neil Armstrong as the American hero who led the historic Apollo 11 space mission to the moon in 1969, there is another story to tell of his life during that time. First Man looks not only at Armstrong, the man on the moon, but Armstrong, the man.
At the start of the film, Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is still reeling from the death of his two-year-old daughter. The drama then splits into two, depicting the astronaut’s personal struggles alongside his career in the decade leading up to his historic mission.
Gosling nails both the analytical and cool-headed astronaut, as well as the reticent, silent father. But it’s Claire Foy, who plays Armstrong’s wife, Janet, who really shines in the film, subtly conveying all the emotional layers of a woman who must put on a brave face for her husband and children, while grieving the loss of her daughter and living in dread that she might lose her husband, too.
And despite director Damien Chazelle’s introspective take on this topic, the film remains grounded by showing the social context surrounding the space mission. The pace is at times slow – but that tends to be the nature of the genre.
Brilliantly setting Armstrong’s inner battle against the backdrop of one of the biggest events of the 20th century, First Man is not your average space movie — and one you won’t forget in a hurry, either.
Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge