By BOB PALMER,
Tragedy stalks “First Man” like an angry girlfriend. You already know Neil Armstrong is the first man to set foot on the moon, but through a brilliant script (Josh Singer) and skillful direction (Damien Chazelle) the thrill and uncertainty of the space race are restored for us.
From the first moment, you grasp how doubtful success could be. You can feel how these men in attempting to do what no one has done before push the edges of the safety and good sense envelop. As tests fail and astronauts die, we meet Neil and Janet Armstrong. They are an ordinary couple living in ordinary homes dealing with a grief all too many ordinary families know. Their five-year-old daughter dies of a brain tumor. To cope with his loss, Neil, played with intense understatement by Ryan Gosling, has a Saturn rocket strapped to his backside then launched at the moon. Janet, with a stellar performance by Claire Foy, must stay at home, raise their two sons and comfort a neighbor who lost her husband to a NASA accident.
Truly amazing special effects accompany this journey. You will suspend your sense of reality as spaceships vibrate on entering the atmosphere and you can sense how close to disaster each moment above the earth can be. “First Man” is not like other space movies you may have seen. “Man” is not “The Right Stuff” or “Apollo XIII.” There is little in the way of comic relief. The focus is sharply set on the Armstrongs and the rest of the players become a blur.
“Another egghead,” a Navy jet jockey commented to his buddy as Armstrong, a civilian engineer, was called for a Gemini Program interview. That is the view of Armstrong we are allowed to see. A quiet, thoughtful American, brave beyond belief, dealing with his own personal loss, with an ordinary American family, took us to the moon and back home again. It was a story worth telling and this team has told it well.
Those of you who can remember watching on television as that “First Step” was taken will want to see this movie to relive that moment. Those of you who were not born, yet, need to see “First Step,” both as a history lesson and as a reminder of what real heroes look like.
“First Man” is rated PG-13. The run time is two hours and 21 minutes. For showtimes see the ad on this page or go to www.Jimplecute.com.
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