Film & TV

“First Man” Underwhelms with New Twist on Neil Armstrong

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“First Man” tells the story of Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) from his days as a test pilot in California to his first steps on the moon. Instead of putting the primary focus on the historical aspects of the space race, “First Man” takes a different approach — it focuses on the man under the space suit.

Released Oct. 12, “First Man” recounts Armstrong’s life and personal struggles through the eight years leading up to the moon landing. The film shows his most intimate moments in the midst of pivotal historic events, showing the coexistence of loss and triumph.

Hearing the title and reading the synopsis makes the film seem like déjà vu — “First Man” isn’t the only movie to tackle the story of the space race. But “First Man” gave this well-known story a unique spin when deciding to focus a little more on Armstrong as a regular person, husband and father — not just an astronaut.

 The first tragedy hits the Armstrong family at the film’s start, when Neil and his wife, Janet (Claire Foy), lose their 2-year-old daughter, Karen, to a brain tumor. Armstrong holds on to the grief throughout the rest of the film which builds the foundation for the emotional and personal aspects of the story.

Karen’s death isn’t “First Man’s” only funeral. Armstrong also had to cope with the deaths of astronauts during the Gemini and Apollo missions. Although some viewers may have anticipated these deaths, this didn’t take away from the emotion and shock of each one. As Armstrong experiences loss after loss, the audience can empathize with his sorrow.

 Gosling portrayed Armstrong as a serious man devoted to his work. In scenes depicting his life outside of NASA, he became a bit more personable and likeable among his friends and family. However, as more tragedy struck, he began to seem detached and even cold, especially with his family.

However, when attempting to dig into Armstrong’s mental state and life outside of NASA during this time, Gosling just scraped the surface. His depiction of Armstrong felt static, and he rarely broke through the outer layer of the character, leaving Armstrong with little development.

 Foy’s depiction of Janet turned the Armstrong family’s story into a personal one. Jan, a loving, proud but worried wife made their family life feel like any normal one, which made their story relatable for most audiences. 

Part of what makes “First Man” feel that much more personal are the camera angles. Damien Chazelle, director, plays with the different ways of shooting, often relying on close-ups and filming from Armstrong’s point of view to make the scenes intimate and intense.

 The use of hand-held cameras also contributed to the personal aura of the story, giving the movie a documentary-like feel. However, this method of filming caused shakiness which, at times, felt overwhelming and unnecessary. Though close-ups were a good way to capture the feelings of the characters, they occasionally felt overused and not needed. 

“First Man” covers a wide range of topics — the scientific advancements, historical triumph, family life and intrapersonal battle. Yet still, it felt a bit underwhelming. 

The film put a new take on an old story which was good, but not great; there were times that the plot dragged and even felt a little boring. The constant use of a shaky camera and close up images didn’t help and distracted, if anything. While Armstrong’s moon landing may have been out of this world, “First Man” just barely left the atmosphere.  

Rated PG-13, “First Man” was released Oct. 12 and is playing in theaters nationwide. 

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