REVIEW: “First Man,” A Testament to America’s Efforts to Reach the Stars

Nate Borie, Film Analyst

In the history of cinema, and in my personal opinion, there have only been three films that have exemplified the excitement and drama of space travel, the intense struggle to survive in an extremely hostile environment and in some cases, the ability to add something new and exciting to the genre. Those films are Apollo 13, Interstellar and “The Martian.” Now, thanks to Damien Chazelle’s superb direction, Ryan Gosling’s stunning performance as Neil Armstrong, impressive cinematography and a truly emotional story, First Man has entered the line-up of epic and engaging outer space thriller films.


Damien Chazelle, known for his award-winning  work on 2016’s musical spectacular La La Land, has returned with his latest thriller that details Neil Armstrong’s effort to help NASA travel to the moon and to be the first man to walk on its surface, as well as Neil’s personal life with his family. Chazelle’s direction was genius. His decision to compartmentalize the story by focusing on the different steps Armstrong and NASA took to reach and accomplish the Apollo missions plus the portrayal of Armstrong’s personal life was emotional and groundbreaking. However, I found the side of the story that focused on Neil’s personal life to be a distraction. True it was emotional to see Neil’s wife and children worry about his safety, but if the film was  to focus less on the family side and more on the struggles and trials NASA went through to reach Apollo 11 and Neil’s involvement in it all, it would’ve made the film so much better.


Personally, I have never been a real fan of Ryan Gosling as an actor. It’s true he is a talented actor and has been in some pretty impressive films, but his stone-faced monotone expressions make it virtually impossible to know whether he is happy, sad or angry. Despite my personal viewpoint towards Gosling, I have to applaud his performance as Neil Armstrong. As it turns out, his monotone expressions actually worked to his advantage in this role. Given the serious nature of the story, a more serious and emotionless persona is necessary to display Armstrong’s sheer determination to achieve what no man had done before.


The cinematography was absolutely incredible, a combination of handheld camera shots, and a few moments of first-person perspective shots. I was especially impressed by the first-person perspective shots. It made it so when Neil launches into space with his fellow astronauts for the first time, you feel like you are right in the middle of the action and it increases the intensity of when things go wrong. The handheld shots, however, were jarring and headache inducing. It made it difficult to watch certain scenes in the film, but it also helped improve the emotional moments by giving the audience a close-up and shaky view of the experience.


“First Man’s” story was interesting. The tale of NASA’s efforts to reach the moon and Neil Armstrong’s determination to be the first man to walk on its surface. In short, the story does an excellent job of detailing the intensity and drama of what it took for America to be the first nation to reach the moon and it also does a good job of showing how one man’s determination and devotion to his family can lead him to become one of America’s greatest heroes.


Overall, I thought “First Man” was a beautiful, powerful and intense cinematic experience. Despite some shortcomings, the film is an all-around  visual spectacle worthy of Damian Chazelle’s talent. I give “First Man” an 8/10.