REVIEW: ‘First Man’ delivers thrilling biopic of American hero


Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong in “First Man.”

Alex Novak

“First Man” offers a fresh biopic of one of America’s most celebrated heroes with a hard-hitting tone that will leave viewers in awe of its cinematic achievements.

The latest work from Academy Award-winning director Damien Chazelle — who also delivered the critically acclaimed films “Whiplash” and “La La Land” — revolves around the morally and politically controversial space race of the 1960s.

The film effortlessly tells a captivating story that captures the burdens Neil Armstrong, played by Ryan Gosling, dealt with on his mission to visit the moon. It covers everything from his years as a space exploration test pilot to becoming the commanding astronaut on the Apollo 11 mission.

One of many thrilling space exploration films, this one shines as the premier space race film to date. Without question, it gives the classic “Apollo 13” a run for its money, as well as surpassing recent genre favorites, such as “Gravity” and “Interstellar.”

The film provides an up-close and exceptionally detailed personal view Armstong’s quiet, troubled life. His work toward a lunar landing mission for NASA had a painful impact on him as he dealt with the loss of his 2-year-old daughter to cancer just before joining the project.

Armstrong also faced the subsequent deaths of many of his colleagues during Project Gemini, along with the harsh reality he could be the next man to lose his life to this work.

Despite a largely historically accurate story in its portrayal, the film is still not immune from taking a few minor leaps with its dramatic license to turn some of the small, emotional moments into truly poetic ones.

“We have to fail down here so we don’t fail up there,” Armstrong says emphatically to his superiors in the film.

Space exploration was a highly contested venture in America during the ‘60s because of the tax costs for a country already enthralled in vile racial injustice and the saddening amount of lives lost in pursuit of this accomplishment that would not yield much more than bragging rights with the Soviet Union.

With a cast full of solid performances from the main and supporting actors, “First Man” delivers a film that captures the debate between reason and wonder. Gosling in particular is deliberately methodic from start to finish as he mimics Armstrong’s mannerisms and conveys his struggle with trauma hauntingly well, adding yet another Oscar-worthy role to his resume.

The technical aspects of the film reflect the solid work of a well-written and executed script. The cinematography in the film is one of the true highlights. The stunning visuals have countless moments of jaw-dropping composition, especially during the breathtaking climax scene on the moon.

The musical score conducted by Chazelle’s right-hand man Justin Hurwitz is also notable as it grabs viewers’ attention whenever the action picks up, and it is beautifully original for the emotional pull the story has on the viewer. The music constantly adds to the depth of the film until it explodes into a full symphony in the end.

“First Man” captures Armstrong’s incredible journey with a craft that is second to none. This film is a flawless execution that is tremendously entertaining.

Alex Novak is an entertainment reviewer. Contact him at [email protected].