Before we get started, let’s establish the fact that “First Man” is not a flag-waving patriotic movie. And it’s not a make Making America Great Again filmeither. It’s about a reluctant hero, who jeopardizes his marriage and his life, so his country can have the first moon landing. Through personal, and on-the-job tragedies, astronaut Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is thrust into the history as being the first man to walk upon the lunar surface.
The film has received numerous complains that there’s not a scene with Armstrong planting the American flag on the lunar surface. Relax, there are plenty of patriotic moments, and the film just doesn’t hit you over the head with them. And for the record, audiences do see the American flag on the moon.
“Apollo 13” (‘95) and the “Right Stuff” (’83) are a couple of favorite Hollywood NASA space movies. And audiences might be expecting more of the same treatment as in the other films. You know, a lot of bells and whistles, and maybe a speech or two. However, the filmmakers took another approach. “First Man” follows Armstrong’s person life, the Apollo space program and all the space hardware that launched America into the 1960’s space race.
The film stock is grainy by design. No Hollywood glitz, overt special effects and bombastic music. The film is shot from the astronaut’s perspective. Inside the space capsules Mercury, Gemini and finally Apollo, the thin walls squeak, contort, shake, rattle and roll during liftoff. They make the audience wonder why anyone would get inside one of those soup cans, which might fly apart at any moment during lunch, not to mention reentry. But there were those who piloted those crafts and paid with their lives.
The film follows Armstrong’s seven years of sacrifices, deaths and failures. The filmmakers highlight the things the general public probably didn’t know, think, or even cared about at the time. The press and public wanted to see a space pioneer, which Armstrong was, but he was also flawed like the rest of us. The only difference is, when Armstrong went to work, his family and friends knew he might not come back home.
There’s a heart-wrenching scene where Armstrong sits his two boys down and tells them that he might not be coming back from the moon. In fact, NASA halfway expected the mission to fail, but took a gamble to beat the Russians to the lunar surface.
To the film’s credit, it does give screen time to the hundreds of protesters who thought the millions of dollars spent on the space race would be better spent at home on the poor and disfranchised. That fact is punctuated by musician Gil Scott-Heron’s politically charged and poignant poem, “Whitey’s On The Moon.” But with that being said, “First Man” is a fresh perspective of an event that most people think they knew about.
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