The greatest challenge with a biopic is the obvious fact that everyone pretty much knows what’s gonna happen. For example, at no point during the course of First Man would the audience have to wonder if Neil Armstrong made it to the moon.
Spoiler: he does.
But the measure of such a film is in making the audience care in how the outcome is achieved. In the case of First Man, it wasn’t only about the process of sending a man to the moon, but also the cost of keeping one grounded when their worries are, almost literally, out of this world.
Hollywood’s need to cast good-looking people aside, Ryan Gosling is a remarkably appropriate Armstrong with his usually stunning good looks tempered by a constant weight that could have only been felt by one burdened with the dreams of a nation.
While the film does linger a tad too long on the personal lives of the Armstrongs, slowing the pace of the movie a little too much, the lead up to the experience of Apollo 11’s journey, as well as the moon landing, is somehow both exhilarating and tense all at the same time.
Writer Josh Singer’s strength manifests with his ability to tie emotional threads into the journey of the character in unexpected ways, leading to a more than satisfying conclusion to Neil’s journey over the course of the movie.
The unsung hero of the film is Claire Foy’s Janet Sharon, Armstrong’s wife during the period of the film’s events. Carrying the full weight of an army wife, wrestling with the service her husband delivers against the knowledge of it being a suicide mission, her role serves as the emotional crux of the film.
At its core, while First Man doesn’t fail the story of Neil Armstrong the astronaut. Its strength lies in the ale of the man who fought to do something impossible and also humanising him.