I went to First Man yesterday, I thought it was an extraordinarily well-made movie and very enjoyable. It's not like most space movies, perhaps closest to The Real Stuff, though that was much more flamboyant and focused mostly on the training and circus atmosphere surrounding the early NASA program. What's intriguing about the film is that it's very quiet and matter-of-fact about something that is not remotely matter-of-fact, all of which makes the story so relatable and gives the movie its emotion. It's as much about the decade leading up to the moon landing, with the family hurdles, and so many of the astronauts living in the same neighborhood, their lives intertwining, and how everything impacts the training and emotions, as it is about the result of all that. Indeed, without giving anything away, the last scene of the film almost encapsulate this sensibility. The script is written by Oscar-winner Josh Singer, who wrote Spotlight and The Post, and he gives this the same focused insight. It was directed by Damien Chazelle, who did La-La Land and Whiplash, and his work here is tour-de-force, alongside production designer Nathan Crowley. Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy star, and both do very good jobs -- none of the acting is "flamboyant," it's all part of the natural sense of the film, low-key and pointed.
Side note: contrary to what has gone down in history, Neil Armstrong has always asserted that he did NOT say, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Rather, he insists (as he did many times, including to James Hansen, who wrote the book, Moonshot, on which this movie is based) that he said, "That's one small step for A man..." He says that otherwise, the quote doesn't make much sense, "man" being pretty much the same as "mankind." This 2013 article in the Los Angeles Times here looks at the issue, and at some detailed studies that have been made of the audio tape and of linguistics, and some of these experts tend to conclude that he may well possibly have been right.)
Separate from all that, a few words on the manufactured "controversy" about them not showing the planting of the American flag on the moon, and how some on the far right think this is just Hollywood being arrogant and anti-American. In fact, contrary to what you may have read -- they show the flag on the moon. It's not prominent, but it's there, in a couple of shots, in fact. And the American flag is seen throughout the movie. And the worldwide reaction afterwards to America is highlighted. All that don't do is have a scene when the flag is planted. I can argue with that for artistic reasons, though I understand why structurally they felt that might not have worked in the emotion of the sequence, which was about the human reactions of them men actually setting foot on the moon. (The filmmakers' explanation I thought was weak, though the result is fine.) But this isn't even remotely avoiding America's achievement in going to the moon. It's prominent throughout -- even in the moon scene. In fact, when watching how incredibly enthusiastic the world is towards America after the landing (and I'm sure the movie uses real footage), it made me gnash my teeth and think, "(insert your favorite swear word here) Trump."
Rather than show the trailer, I've got three other videos instead, which I think better address what I've noted above. This first is a look at the scene when a very reluctant Neil Armstrong talks to his his kids the night before the launch, at the visceral insistence of his wife. It includes director Chazelle talking what they were going for. Just know that the sequence is much more extensive than this, which is really just the end of it --
And this is a look at the tour-de-force work I mentioned with the production design. This is just a surface overview, rather than the immersive impact of the results on screen. Though you will easily note the American flag on the moon...
Finally, here's a nice interview with Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy -- along with Mark and Rick Armonstrong, the now grown-up sons who served as consultants on the film. And you get somewhat of a sense of the human focus of the movie. Along with some very funny reactions from the actors.
Oh, what the heck, you've sat through all this, so you deserve to see the trailer. It's a difficult movie to market -- and I don't think they did a thoroughly effective job -- and while the trailer gets across the impressive production and much of the high dramatics, the movie (as I've noted) is far more quiet and personal.
And yes, I know that this is very long for a Capsule Review, but in fairness the "review" part is just the first paragraph
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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