FILM- First Man

Welcome to Katz Reviews. This is Ed Katz of Katnip Marketing- marketing consultant by day; theater and film critic by night- bringing my weekly review segment, Katz Reviews, here for you on WICC 600.

In recent years we have been fortunate to have seen several really good movies about space travel launched (pardon the pun). A few that immediately come to mind are ‘The Martian’ with Matt Damon,  ‘The Arrival’ with Amy Adams and ‘Gravity,’ with Sandra Bullock.

Those would all fall into the science fiction category.  You have to go back to 1995 for Tom Hanks in Ron Howard’s ‘Apollo 13’ to find a good space travel movie based on true events.

Into that realm comes director Damien Chazelle’s ‘First Man’ with Ryan Gosling. Chazelle, who has won numerous awards for his earlier films, ‘La La Land’ and ‘Whiplash,’ here tackles this biopic of Neal Armstrong- played by Gosling- and all the hurdles he had to overcome, personal and professional, for his trip to the moon.

Claire Foy as Janet Artmstrong ;

In addition to those hurdles, it is apparent that Chazelle and Gosling had to overcome the fact that Armstrong, as a person, was more enigmatic than charismatic. This is a real challenge for the lead role in a major motion picture. It is also shown to be a challenge for Armstrong’s wife, Janet- well played by Claire Foy- who constantly tries to get Armstrong to open up to their kids… and to her.

  Ryan Gosling as Neal Armstrong; MovieWeb

Gosling is a talented actor and we see him, in private moments, finally showing some emotion and fighting back tears when he tells his sons- at Janet’s insistence- that he will be going to the moon and one son asks, “Will you miss my swim meet?” and then,finally, letting tears flow over the death of his young daughter.

Chazelle- especially in ‘Whiplash’- is a master at dramatizing tension. Here he adds some extra stylistic touches (perhaps borrowed from executive producer Steven Spielberg) as in the scene where an Armstrong test flight starts to spiral out of control and, in the theater on the big screen, it puts the viewer on a loud, scary roller coaster ride until Armstrong is finally able to figure how to pull out of it, just before he falls unconscious.

The cast- which also includes Kyle Chandler as Deke Slayton and Corey Stoll as Buzz Aldrin- are all fine but don’t expect this film to explain all that is happening in layman’s terms- it doesn’t. That adds to the authenticity, as does the great team that created all the 1960’s sets, costumes and NASA space gadgets and equipment. And the film does take its time telling the story. At almost 2-1/2 hours, it felt like a few scenes could have been trimmed.

l to r: Gosling, Corey Stoll as Buzz Aldrin, Lukas Haas as Michael Collins; Mashable

There was controversy over the film not showing the United States flag actually being planted on the moon’s surface. There is a shot- though it’s quick and a at a distance- of the flag there. Maybe they feared showing the U.S. flag being planted would hurt overseas ticket sales? Hmmm…

The film does show, on screen, the controversies surrounding the timing of the space program: it happened amidst the Vietnam war and with the Russians ahead of us in the space race- so we see U.S. senators complain how hard it is to justify the high cost (in dollars as well as human lives) of NASA and the race to the moon when they are dealing with Vietnam War protests, civil rights and poverty issues.

Mild spoiler alert: Though we see Armstrong’s trip was a success, as we know, we also see- in the final scene- there is a toll this success has taken on both Armstrong and his wife. While it is to director Chazelle’s credit he didn’t shy away from showing that, it does make the ending a far cry from the expected “feel good finale.” It’s another reminder this is based on a true story- and it is a pretty good, if long, film- and I give ‘First Man’ 3-1/2  stars out of 5.

Next week I will have a special Katz Reviews segment for you so I hope you tune in to catch it. Catch my reviews right here this time each week and on my Facebook page and website, Katz Reviews dot com, where you will find all my WICC 600 reviews. This is Ed Katz talking movies for WICC 600!