Earlier this year, “First Man” was predicted by many within the film industry to be the heavy favorite for “Movie of the Year” honors. With Academy Award-winning director Damien Chazelle teaming up once again with leading man Ryan Gosling, the duo was supposed to shock and awe moviegoers with America’s greatest feat ever accomplished: NASA’s July 20, 1969 moon landing. Unfortunately, the movie’s depiction of the historic space odyssey never feels as significant to viewers from the perspective of the business-natured astronaut Neil Armstrong and the U.S. space program.
A slow burn overall, “First Man” only throttles up excitement a few times to keep the audience on the edge as Armstrong (Gosling) trains and flies his Gemini and Apollo missions. The dangerous risks associated with test flights, launch pad procedures, orbiter docking in space and the lunar moon landing are all well-choreographed and look sensational. The film’s focus, though, on these significant challenges involved in reaching the moon prevents any serious in-depth character development on the astronauts.
For the most part, “First Man” quarantines the audience from public opinion and media reports on these American space pioneers. We see the astronauts’ training from their isolated perspective but rarely the enthusiasm of normal civilians watching from afar. The 1960’s were a turbulent decade for America, and our country needed this moon victory to offset assassinations and war. The film surprisingly missed the American spirit trajectory that Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins gave in real-life.
Recently, “First Man” has been roundly criticized for omitting Armstrong’s planting of the U.S. flag on the moon’s surface. Director Chazelle has dismissed all the negativity, ensuring that his film pays proper tribute to America’s crowning achievement on the world’s stage. I concur.
At numerous times in the movie, “USA” and the stars & stripes are highlighted to mark America’s fingerprints on space exploration and her success during the most dangerous mission ever attempted. Likewise, the controversial U.S. flag on the moon’s surface is shown, albeit from a distance in a panoramic shot after the fact. “First Man” mostly pays tribute to the space race between the United States and Russia—once again showing America’s resilience and ultimate victory.
Houston, we have a problem. “First Man” isn’t a contender for “Film of the Year”. In fact, it doesn’t further one’s knowledge of the Apollo 11 adventure more than history books or previous NASA films over the course of 2 hours and 21 minutes.