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First Man

This is a biopic about Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling) and the story of he became a member of the first mission to successfully land and walk on the moon. This was a very interesting choice for the director to film focus this journey on Armstrong, who is presented as a very moody, brilliant, and introverted pilot who had a natural instinct for calmly getting out of bad situations; that perspective is why the film works as well as it does and why it stands out among other astronaut films. The film isn’t perfect, but there are a number of things that help the film to soar. It is thrilling; even though you know the outcome, as you are watching the movie, you still feel as though the outcome is uncertain. There is a lot of bouncing and shaking and bolts and sheet metal creaking that make it feel precarious and thrilling; there are many of these scenes in the film, and they probably work the best. The space race is well contextualized in the political and social heartbeat of the times; we are reminded that, while the first man on the moon is now seen as a critical moment in space exploration, not everyone was in favor of it. And not everyone understood the enormity of what was going on. There is one scene where Armstrong’s wife tells there son that Dad is going to the moon. His response: “Okay.  Can I go out and play?” The program was beset by mishaps, and politicians and citizens alike were prone to question why. I really liked Gosling’s portrayal of Armstrong, and Claire Foy, who played his wife, was critical to understanding the “real” Armstrong who had to be forced to tell his boys he might not come back. The strength of the film is less in the actors as in the screenplay and editing that creates a sense of tension and suspense; this may be its distraction as well, since the shifts between personal/psychological and the IMAX-worthy space scenes probably won’t keep all viewers as interested as I was. Big thumbs up for a movie that gives a personal and intimate look at an important moment in history. It also shines a light on what courage is, that quality of those individuals, regardless of circumstance, who find themselves at the edge of the norm charting new paths forward.

About Gary Burkholder

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