“That’s one small step for man…one giant leap for mankind”
First Man (2018) tells the story of Neil Armstrong and his journey to becoming the first man to step foot on the moon. Directed by Damien Chazelle, the film stars Ryan Gosling as Armstrong and Claire Foy as his wife Janet. The movie balances the chaos and danger of the space program with the quiet tension of the Armstrongs’ home life.
I’ve found that I love this movie more and more each time I watch it. Gosling and Foy are phenomenal in their performances and really anchor the entire movie. Ryan Gosling has been around for a long time, but the more of his movies I watch, the more he becomes one of my favorite actors. He can say so much with only his facial expressions – Neil is not a talker, but you always know what he’s thinking or feeling because of Gosling. And Claire Foy is phenomenal as Queen Elizabeth in The Crown and does an incredible job here of making you understand the pressure the wife of an astronaut experienced. She’s trying to raise two sons and maintain a sense of normalcy in their lives with the ever-looming threat that her husband may go out on a mission and never come home again. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over the fact that Gosling and Foy were not even nominated for Oscars for their performances.
I love the way the flight sequences were shot in this movie. Damien Chazelle places the camera so that the audience gets a first-person view, almost like virtual reality goggles or a video game. The behind-the-scenes features show that the special effects team used a massive LED screen to show the earth and moon in real-time so the actors could react to the actual visuals and it all looks amazing. And I can’t talk enough about the entire moon landing sequence. You know they’re going to make the landing, but there is still so much tension in the descent that you almost forget they were successful.
The journey to the moon contains my two favorite shots in the entire movie. The first is on the way to the moon – it’s an extreme wide shot and you just see the command module as this tiny dot flying straight across the screen. It gives the journey a magnitude and perspective on just how far they had to go. After Neil and Buzz land on the moon and have suited up to go outside, they open the lander door to see the moon for the first time. As the camera tracks out the door and enters space, the sound is sucked out along with the atmosphere – and it’s incredible. And – I missed this the first time I saw the movie – the transition to IMAX aspect ratio in that shot blows my mind at how genius it is.
I can’t talk about how much I love this movie without mentioning the amazing score. Chazelle and Justin Hurwitz are quickly becoming one of my favorite director-composer duos. I’m obsessed with the music for La La Land and the Whiplash soundtrack is great as well. The music in First Man is exciting, energetic and emotional. I especially love the intense descending motif and the love theme. I’ll keep going back to the moon landing sequence, but the music for the launch and for the descent to the lunar surface gives me chills every single time.
Neil Armstrong was not your typical hero. He was humble, thoughtful, and focused on completing the task he was assigned to do. For one of the most iconic moments in human history, it’s wild that this movie hasn’t been made already. It’s an important story to tell that reminds people just how crazy, brave, and innovative the astronauts and engineers at NASA had to be to get us to the moon. This movie is also even more fascinating when you watch the recent Apollo 11 documentary and see just how accurate the filmmakers were with these historical moments. First Man is a fascinating look at one of history’s greatest heroes – showing us who he was as a person and humanizing the man who took humanity’s greatest leap.