First Man is a myriad of gorgeous cinematic landscapes and personal asides.
The story of Neil Armstrong’s life is beautiful in spots and messy, incoherently paced in others. Damien Chazelle (director of Whiplash and La La Land) constructs the events leading up to the Apollo 11 mission as if they were merely an afterthought.
Act I works like boring clockwork. It serves as a montage bereft of any meaningful dialogue that highlights major stepping stones that Armstrong had to surpass to be assigned to the Apollo 11 mission.
The biggest positive from this section of the film is the treatment of the untimely death of his daughter from a brain tumor. There are a number of instances later in the film that Armstrong’s fellow astronauts and even his own wife mention about his struggle with her death. During her funeral wake scene at the beginning of the movie, Armstrong ducks into his office, closes the door, and weeps heavily for a minute or two. He then composes himself to join company again.
This serves as an interesting commentary on masculinity in the 60s. For some reason, he felt that he could not grieve in public about the death of his own daughter, and the scene serves as a brutally honest glimpse into the emotions of the otherwise stoic man.
The second half of the film is clearly more inspired. Armstrong’s wife Janet is portrayed emotionally and bravely by Claire Foy, the real star of the film. Janet stands by Neil as long as she can, but when his job threatens the fabric of their family, she forces Neil to confront the ugly truths about his job and to be honest with her and their children.
Toward the end of the movie, Armstrong and the crew of Apollo 11 land on the moon. The beautiful, melancholy climax of Armstrong’s professional career is shot masterfully and with surprising tact by Chazelle in his first ever endeavor into big-budget, “money shot” filmmaking.
Although First Man drudges along for the first act, it throws audiences for an emotional loop and provides an interesting look into the psyche of Neil Armstrong as a man. Fans of the cast or space travel in general will thoroughly enjoy this film.