Saturday movie review: First Man

Stargazers and moon enthusiasts will have their eyes on the skies this weekend, seeking prime views of the Super Blood Wolf Moon Eclipse set to reach its peak—and glow red—the night of January 20/21, 2019. Which is tomorrow night.

The spectacular lunar event makes this prime time for my review of FIRST MAN, the breathtaking biopic of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on that far-off, endlessly intriguing moon.

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FIRST MAN is about … well, the official synopsis from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (which sent me an advance Blu-ray of the film free for review) says it best:

“Oscar®-winning director Damien Chazelle and star Ryan Gosling reteam for the riveting story behind the first manned mission to the moon, focusing on Neil Armstrong and the decade leading to the historic Apollo 11 flight. A visceral and intimate account told from Armstrong's perspective, based on the book by James R. Hansen, the film explores the triumphs and the cost—on Armstrong, his family, his colleagues and the nation itself—of one of the most dangerous missions in history.”

Take a look at FIRST MAN:

What I appreciated most about FIRST MAN—in addition to the heart-wrenchingly real performances by Gosling and Foy—is that the film focus not on the actual first step that astounded the world but on the unbelievable steps and sacrifices leading up to the historic Apollo 11 flight.

Armstrong has long been justifiably hailed a hero. And he was indeed the bravest of the brave. Yet most of us forget he was first and foremost human. FIRST MAN reveals Armstrong’s sheer humanity, as a man, a father, a friend. A man who put his family and his life on the line for the sake of space exploration…despite enduring the loss of numerous friends and coworkers pursuing the same.

Like many folks, I suppose, I never really considered too closely how absolutely dangerously insane it was that men would willingly squish themselves into a tiny spaceship and be blasted off to the moon. I was unexpectedly distressed by visceral scenes of Armstrong and others being shaken to the point of literally losing consciousness as they were catapulted to outer space.

What kind of crazy men signed up for such things? And what kind of strong women stood by such men, accepting the consequences of their husband’s careers?

FIRST MAN reveals the reality of such men and women, thanks to unforgettable performances by Gosling, Foy, and other cast, including Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, and Corey Stoll, to name a few. The film also reveals little known history about Neil and Jan Armstrong’s heartbreaking loss not long before his infamous achievement (I won’t spoil it).

Top credit for the stellar cinematic experience irrefutably goes to director Damien Chazelle (director of LA LA LAND and WHIPLASH) and Josh Singer, who wrote the screenplay based on Hansen’s book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong.

A fascinating featurette on Chazelle’s vision for FIRST MAN:

Numerous other featurettes are included on the FIRST MAN Blu-ray, DVD, and 4K UHD discs, available January 22 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

FIRST MAN (rated PG-13) appeared in theaters in October and has been nominated for numerous awards. Learn more on the FIRST MAN website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (hashtag #FirstMan).

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Disclosure: I received this film free for review; all opinions are my own.