First Man, a biopic directed by Damien Chazelle, focuses on the career of Neil Armstrong. The picture shoots for the moon, hits most of the marks, but misses by a meter. First Man released on October 12th, and will be out for Blu-ray and DVD on January 22. The film currently has an 89% positive rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, yet it was a commercial failure. There is a large gap between its critic and moviegoer rating, with only 62% of the audience rating it positively. Why could this be?
First, let’s start off with what the movie did right. The cinematography in any space sequence was breathtaking; each shot made the viewer feel the pressure of the mission. The technical aspects of the movie were also beyond high quality. However, this doesn’t say much about the movie itself, since its production budget was close to $60 million. For the most part, the movie was historically accurate. On occasion, the producers visited NASA to learn about the mission. When commenting on NASA’s influence, Josh Singer, a producer, stated that, “NASA was incredibly helpful” (PopularScience). The acting was great, specifically from Claire Foy, who played Neil’s wife. She was the source of the most emotion in the movie, and she made her character feel real. The soundtrack, or score, was fitting and added quite a lot to the movie. The music showed the importance of the mission, as well as the isolation and danger.
Now, let’s talk about where the movie flopped. The focus of the movie was confusing; it focused much more on the Gemini mission than the Apollo. While the goal of the story was to tell about Neil’s life during the missions, it still felt like the Apollo mission was somewhat summarized. Ryan Gosling’s performance and the movie’s writing made Neil feel too stoic and emotionally binary. Making the most famous man in the world at the time less relatable is not a great decision. Yet, there was one pivotal moment where Neil showed the most emotion. The problem with this moment is that it never happened. For the sake of not spoiling the movie, it will be referred to as the bracelet incident. This part of the movie is where Neil is the most vulnerable and relatable, but this part of the film didn’t take place in real life. This is severely disheartening, because it was the closest the audience got to understanding Neil. For a movie that centers around a character, it does a poor job of showing that character in a way that helps the viewer understand him. Since the whole movie is built on Neil, this brings it down quite a bit.
There was also a piece of controversy about the movie, as it skips over planting the American flag on the moon. Buzz Aldrin, who accompanied Neil to the moon, tweeted pictures of planting the flag on the moon with #ProudToBeAnAmerican around the time of the controversy, implying he disagreed with the movie’s choice. The director claimed it wasn’t a political move, but even if that element is removed, the flag-planting scene is still important. It represents the motivation to even go to the moon, which was to beat the Russians in the space race. Even though it isn’t worth the controversy, it’s still disappointing that the scene was cut.
All in all, First Man was not a bad movie. Many of the film’s more technical aspects such as cinematography, CGI, and score were astonishing, yet it falls at it’s focus. This misstep harms the picture and ultimately causes it to fall short where it could have and should have been great. All things considered, this movie ranks a 7.5/10.