The beginning of the film places us in 1961 where we follow engineer Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), who is a test pilot of NASA spacecraft. Overwhelmed by the loss of his family, he decides to apply for the Gemini program, which aims for the United States to beat the USSR in the space race. Neil moved with his family to Houston, where he soon made friends and progressed in his career. In 1965, the Soviets had the first man to leave spacecraft in space, leading to plans for NASA to conquer the moon. Shortly afterwards, Neil became commander of the Gemini 8 mis mission.
First Man is a biographical film about a man who, at one time, was the loneliest man in the history of civilization. There were explorers who consciously went into the unknown, but they remained within their planet as Neil went a step further. The screenplay deals equally with his career and his private life, but both segments show that, simply, Neil Armstrong was the right man for this endeavor. His commitment is simply palpable and it is obvious that he saw himself on the Earth’s satellite long before he stepped on it.
Josh Singer’s screenplay is based on James R. Hansen’s book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong in which astronauts are presented as almost ordinary people encountering incredible feats. In most films of this type, astronauts are above-average intelligent heroes of incredible courage – First Man does not say that astronauts are not, but it is commendable that the script is not based on that. There are several scenes that emphasize their humanity, and I would definitely single out the one in which Neil Armstrong, on the news that he will lead a mission to the Moon, responds with OK and continues to wash his hands.
First Man, in my opinion, has two problems. The first of them is the simple fact that absolutely everyone knows that Neil Armstrong is the first man on the moon and, therefore, we all know how this movie will end. Another problem is that Neil Armstrong, although he has fantastic achievements behind him, is simply not material for the main character. He spends most of his time in his thoughts, he doesn’t talk much, he is focused on what he is doing and he often observes the Moon. Like his wife and colleagues, we expect him to find a way to channel his thoughts, but he either doesn’t know how or doesn’t want to.
Indirectly, we follow a very authentic presentation of all the challenges that astronauts face, from personal, through mechanics and logistics, all the way to public opinion, which expects taxpayers’ money to be spent smarter. Also, their job is such that they do not know whether they will return alive from the mission, and it is inevitable that they will have to face the losses of their colleagues. As for the mission to the moon, I have to admit that I didn’t like the fact that Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins were sidelined.
Cezel, to put it mildly, masterfully directed this film and I could really write about it. He succeeds in presenting us with the claustrophobia of astronauts even though they are in space, as well as their confusion or fear. Carefully chosen shooting methods effectively represent the working environment, the take-off of spacecraft and especially, landing on the moon, after which you simply feel real relief that the mission succeeded, even though you have known this information since elementary school. The events in the film are in true harmony with the music of Justin Harwitz.
I have to admit that I appreciate Ryan Gosling more and more as an actor. His performance here was especially demanding, because the numerous thoughts that his introverted character must keep to himself – it is a real success to present such a hero or his professionalism, and not to leave the impression of indifference or apathy. Claire Foy is no weaker in the role of his wife Janet, who is not just a worried woman here, but a person who tries to convince her husband that there is something else in life besides his job.