First Man

Fist Hit: Compelling reenactment of an audaciously brave time in the 1960’s where we were challenged by President Kennedy to go to the moon.

When the first man walked on the moon I was packing my bags and heading to Vietnam from Alameda Naval Air Station in San Francisco Bay. Our walking on the moon was an amazing accomplishment. This film gives us a rendition of the challenges these men faced while we made mistake after mistake learning how to build rockets, space suits, and all the other paraphernalia required to send three men in a rocket ship all the way to the moon and return them safely.

I don’t have any point of reference to what Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) was like in real life, but Gosling brought a stoic, determined, quite man to the screen. The back story to his quietness seemed to be made up of two things; it was his default way of being in the world and that he was heartbroken when his young daughter, Karen, died of a brain tumor. He didn’t speak about the loss, but it did not deter him from following orders and doing what he needed to do to be prepared for the event of the century. It was his wife Janet (Claire Foy) that kept his family life and home life grounded and together.

The film begins in 1961 when Neil flying an experimental rocket plane called the X-15 bounces off the atmosphere. He manages to land the plane safely on a dry desert lake bed, however the people he works for think he’s distracted by his daughter’s plight. What struck me about the scenes inside the X-15 cockpit was how basic and utilitarian all the switches and instruments were. The rattling in the cockpit was enough for me to lose faith in man's ability to create a safe rocket.

Armstrong applies to and gets accepted into the Gemini program based in Houston. This program is what NASA has put together to attempt to send someone to the moon as ordered by the President. The family consisting of Neil, Janet and their oldest boy Rick, pick up everything and move to Houston. Arriving in Houston, Claire gets pregnant and they have another boy named Mark.

During the development of these rockets some of the selected astronauts are killed in plane crashes and testing of the equipment. In fact, Neil wasn’t originally part of the fist Apollo crew, but when Ed White (Jason Clarke), Gus Grissom (Shea Whigham), and Roger Chaffee (Cory Michael Smith) are killed inside a capsule during a plug test, the Apollo program leader, Deke Slayton (Kyle Chandler), informs him that Armstrong will head up the first crew to land and walk on the moon. The first crew to go to the moon was Neil, Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll), and Jim Lovell (Pablo Schreiber).

There are numerous amazing scenes in this film; from Neil’s boys roughhousing and playing in the pool, to space capsules spinning uncontrollably in space, to the awe of standing on the moon.

Gosling was excellent in this role. His natural air of solitude worked perfectly for a man driven by adventure, duty, danger, and precise engineering. Foy was fantastic as the woman holding everybody and everything together in their lives. The scene when she instructs Neil to tell the boys that they may never see him again is powerful and poignantly clear. Clarke, Whigham, Smith, Chandler, Stoll, and Schreiber were excellent as part of the Gemini and Apollo teams. Josh Singer wrote an excellent screenplay. Damien Chazelle did a magnificent job of bringing the look, feel, and the technology of the 1960’s to life. The artistic shots against the front reflective face shields of the space helmets were hypnotizing.

Overall: This film is a wonderful interpretation of how we achieved an, almost, unthinkable goal.