On July 20, 1969, one man stunned the world as he walked on the surface of the moon. Nearly 50 years later, the legendary story of Neil Armstrong is finally getting the Hollywood treatment.
The new space-based biopic, directed by La La Land's Damien Chazelle, is based on the biography by James R. Hansen.
The film premieres in theaters October 12.
What's It About?
As the latest trailer (above) suggests, First Man cinematically fits snuggly between Philip Kaufmann's , a 1983 film depicting the early exploits of America's astronauts, and Ron Howard's , a NASA mission that proved less successful than Armstrong's own.
The film tackles the harrowing dangers involved in early spaceflight, even depicting the terrible events of January 27, 1967, when Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were burned alive inside the pre-launch test module on Launch Pad 34 in Cape Canaveral. The disaster was so demoralizing and horrific, it was uncertain if the Apollo program could recover.
Armstrong's Apollo 11 landing with Buzz Aldrin would be the crowning achievement of the Apollo program, giving immeasurable meaning to those astronauts' sacrifice and the work of thousands of people. First Man follows Armstrong's life, ending at his historic landing.
Who's In It?
Straight from their La La Land collaboration, Chazelle turned once again to Ryan Gosling as his leading man. Early reviews have lauded Gosling's performance. When asked about the film's reluctance to push American patriotism, Gosling's answer, reported , shows he's spent a lot of time getting to know the character:
I think this was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement [and] that's how we chose to view it. I also think Neil was extremely humble, as were many of these astronauts, and time and time again he deferred the focus from himself to the 400,000 people who made the mission possible.
Gosling is joined by Claire Foy as Janet Armstrong, Pablo Schreiber as Jim Lovell, Corey Stoll as Buzz Aldrin, and Kyle Chandler as Deke Slayton. Many of these characters remain largely in the background as Gosling and Foy, representing the human cost of reaching for the stars, demand most of the film's attention.
Is It Any Good?
Much like Apollo 13, the film focuses on the Armstrong family as they struggle with the dangers of Armstrong's flight. Compared to Howard's swelling and emotional film about the doomed Apollo 13, First Man is reported to be much more "" in its storytelling. As the BBC says:
The film is an understated, economical drama which, like a rocket that has to escape from the Earth’s gravity, jettisons absolutely everything it doesn’t need. Dialogue is kept to a minimum. Exposition is edited out. Extraneous characters are stripped away...You don’t hear about Armstrong’s Korean War heroics, for that matter, and the space-race politics that were behind Nasa's Apollo programme remain in the background."
Variety at the 2018 Venice Film Festival that Chazelle shows spaceflight with realism "so gritty in its physicality, that it becomes a drama of thrillingly hellbent danger and obsession." In other words, First Man could be one of the most accurate space films since 2013's Gravity (and even that film had some accuracy issues). Even if you know the story of Neil Armstrong and Apollo 11, you've likely never seen it displayed quite like this before.
Reviews appear consistent in one point—the stripped-down storytelling doesn't take away from its depiction of the man at the center of this drama between two worlds.