Off the launchpad, I’m in the minority on this one. “First Man” is getting rave reviews from other critics. I’m going to recommend the film. It is a good one, but just could have been better.
Ryan Gosling plays Neil Armstrong. He’s an exceptional actor with a tough assignment. The first man on the moon was not the most personable, nor charismatic person to walk the Earth.
To that end, Gosling is successful. He plays Armstrong perfectly, and Claire Foy (“Unsane”) is equally good as the astronaut’s long-suffering wife.
Armstrong’s story starts in 1961 as the Mercury program began, and ends in July 1969, right after the historic moon mission. It looks deeply at who the man was and what drove him.
A big part of “First Man” explores Armstrong’s relationship with his wife. He’s quiet and stoic. She’s quiet and stoic, but once in a while explodes and then is quiet and stoic. Gosling’s Armstrong never explodes. He avoids.
Josh Singer — who wrote the absolutely brilliant best picture “Spotlight” — puts pen to this one. It is based on James Hanson’s book. “La La Land’s” Damien Chazelle stretches a movie that should have been a couple of hours to 2:21. He pads it with too many long, camera-shaking shots to simulate being launched and landing, and does a lousy job of demonstrating the camaraderie and sense of team that existed in the astronaut family.
That criticism is deserved.
There are places, however, where the slow spots work. Janet’s encounter with the wife of Ed White, who died tragically on the Apollo 1 launchpad during a test. It’s quiet, deep, tragic. Then there’s Janet insisting that Neil tell their children exactly what’s happening and how dangerous a trip to the moon can be.
It, too, is riveting.
The space stuff? Not so much.
However — as noted earlier — I will recommend Chazelle’s movie. He gets to the moon but doesn’t exactly have — pun intended — the right stuff. And since I referenced “The Right Stuff,” what that film has that “First Man” doesn’t is three-dimensional human beings placed into a script that shows the gallows humor and guts needed to survive such a dangerous undertaking.
I’ve been fascinated by space since Sputnik was launched in 1957. I was 8. I was 11 when Alan Shepherd was launched into lower orbit in a Mercury capsule. From then on, I followed our space exploits almost religiously through that day on July 20, 1969, when Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out of the Eagle and onto the surface of the moon.
It was a grand adventure.
Chazelle’s movie isn’t.
It’s paint-by-numbers filmmaking and often plays more like a text book than a captivating motion picture. Or to put it in the context of Armstrong’s historic step on the surface of the moon, this is not one giant leap for movies, nor one giant leap for movie kind.
Movie name: ‘First Man’
Director: Damien Chazelle
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Olivia Hamilton, Kyle Chandler, Ciaran Hinds, Corey Stoll, Ethan Embry, Shea Whigham, Lukas Haas, Cory Michael Smith
Mr. Movie rating: 3 1/2 stars
Rated PG-13 for mature themes. It’s playing at the Fairchild Cinemas Pasco and Queensgate 12s, the AMC Kennewick 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen.
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it’s your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 stars to 1 star: Don’t bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.