"First Man" Movie Review

Updated on January 3, 2020
popcollin profile image

Collin's been a movie critic since 2009. In real life he works in marketing and is also a novelist ("Good Riddance" published in Oct 2015).

First Man
First Man | Source

Even casual students of space exploration know Neil Armstrong was not a terribly outgoing person. Famously reserved and private, the first man to walk on the moon never seemed to buy into the historical significance of his achievement. He was, to be frank, incredibly bland, and you only need to watch him for two minutes in any NASA press conference at the time to get a clear picture.

A feature film biopic of Armstrong was perhaps inevitable, but it was clearly going to be a tall order. And though plenty of credit goes to screenwriter Josh Singer (The Post, Spotlight) for doing what he could to deliver an engrossing script and also to Ryan Gosling for bringing his talents to the role, First Man ends up falling short in large part because of the horribly uninteresting hero at its center. Picture all the tension and drama of 1996’s Apollo 13 but with an all-business, half-asleep robot leading the way.

For his part, Gosling throws his all into it, and he’s backed by a supremely gifted cast, including Claire Foy as Armstrong’s wife Janet, Jason Clark as fellow astronaut Ed White, and Kyle Chandler as Flight Crew Operations Director Deke Slayton… which brings us to the other issue that hampers First Man—its almost crippling esotericism.

If you know nothing about the whos, wheres, and whys of the space program in the mid-60s, you will be lost early on with little hope of recovery. Singer apparently either thinks audiences are well-versed in that history or believes that it ultimately doesn’t matter. Either way, it’s alienating and make First Man very “inside baseball”.

Director Damien Chazelle has certainly proven his talents as a director during his brief career. Who would have thought that a two-hour movie about a tyrannical jazz instructor could be as utterly compelling as Whiplash turned out to be? And though La La Land wasn’t quite worth all the hype bestowed upon it, it again demonstrated the director’s prowess behind the camera.

As with those, First Man benefits from Chazelle’s presence. The movie is at times exciting and nerve-wracking, and Chazelle brings us right into the throes of the action—from the opening sequence on board Armstrong’s harrowing 1961 X-15 rocket test flight through to his steps on the moon’s surface eight years later.

In addition, Chazelle—aided by cinematographer Linus Sandgren (Battle of the Sexes)—gives First Man a distinctly retro feel that expertly takes us back to the mid-60s, as if at times we’re watching home movies from the era. The film is grainy, and the distinctly vintage hues help create the setting. And when we finally do land on the moon, the effect is breathtaking. It’s perhaps the best reenactment of the moon landing ever put on film.

Through it all, though, First Man can’t entirely shake the utterly monochrome nature of its protagonist. Certainly, Armstrong is entitled to his own unique personality, and no one will ever question his contributions to world history, but had First Man been instead re-tooled as Mission: Moon or something else that didn’t devote itself almost entirely to such an aloof and quiet man, it may well have been the complete package.


4/5 stars

'First Man' trailer


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, reelrundown.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)