Ryan Gosling takes flight to outer space as Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon.
We recently reviewed Bohemian Rhapsody, in which every shortcut common to biographical films was taken to create a neat narrative structure. First Man is almost the polar opposite of that, valuing accuracy and authenticity above all else as it shows Armstrong’s small steps to space.
Rather than cram various significant events into nonsensical scenes, it shows isolated events and allows the audience to fill in the gaps. This is both a strength and a weakness, as believability is provided at the expense of a flowing story.
It carefully sidesteps the cliché of the nay-saying spouse, as Armstrong’s wife (Claire Foy) is shown struggling with her husband’s chosen vocation, while never outright opposing it or failing to see the value in what he’s doing.
The entire process is meticulously and flawlessly re-constructed, including the scenes on the moon itself. Even Kubrick couldn’t have faked the moon landing better. Eschewing the sweeping cinematogaphy we’ve come to expect in films like Gravity and Interstellar, it prefers to keep the camera in the cockpit.
As a result it’s more a film about a person that a mission of science, but successfully captures the sensation of being stuck in a tiny metal capsule in the vast, deadly expanse of space much like Apollo 13.
Yet in spite of this it never really gets under Armstrong’s skin. We never find out what motivates him to take on such a dangerous venture, and he never seems to struggle much with the toll it takes on his family, in particular the children he might never see again. As a result this space-bound drama never quite makes it beyond the mesosphere.