Neil Armstrong Biopic Explores Emotional Angst of Legendary Astronaut
Neil Armstrong made history on July 20, 1969 when he became the first person to walk on the moon. In retrospect, the NASA astronaut proved to be the ideal pick for the honor, since he never subsequently sought to cash in on his celebrity status.
Instead, the reluctant hero modestly eschewed fame and fortune, withdrawing from the limelight in favor of sharing his pearls of wisdom with future generations in the classroom as a college professor. He even discouraged biographers until he finally agreed to cooperate with James R. Hansen on “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong”.
Published in 2005, the 768-page opus has now been adapted to the screen by Oscar-winning scriptwriter Josh Singer (for Spotlight). However, the biopic covers only 1961 through 1969, Armstrong’s early years in the space program, ending with Apollo 11’s historic lunar landing.
The picture reunites Damien Chazelle and Ryan Gosling whose collaboration on the delightful musical, La La Land (2016) netted the former the Best Director Academy Award and the latter a nomination in the Lead Actor category. First Man is a relatively-sober affair which divides its time between chronicling the astronauts’ perilous training regimen and speculating about the ever-stoic Armstrong’s inscrutable psyche.
The movie’s somber tone is set not long past the point of departure when Neil and wife Janet’s (Claire Foy) 2-year-old daughter Karen loses her battle with brain cancer. In lieu of mourning, he throws himself into his preparations for space flight, and his emotional unavailability puts an unspoken strain on their relationship.
Meanwhile, the risks associated with the Gemini and Apollo programs only further intensify Armstrong’s palpable angst. After all, numerous astronauts died in accidents during training, including his close friends Ed White (Jason Clarke) and Elliot See (Patrick Fugit).
In terms of special f/x, First Man tends to telescope tightly on what transpired in the cockpits, so brace yourself for lots of hand-held camera work from the astronauts’ point-of-view, as opposed to the awe-inspiring God shots you ultimately get from the lunar surface.
A fitting tribute to an American icon best remembered as a humble, vulnerable soul with human frailties.
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for peril, mature themes and brief profanity
Running time: 141 minutes
Production Studio: Amblin Entertainment/Perfect World
Pictures/Dreamworks/Universal Pictures/Temple Hill Entertainment
Studio: Universal Pictures
OPENING THIS WEEK
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
For movies opening October 12, 2018
Bad Times at the El Royale (R for profanity, drug use, graphic violence and brief nudity) Suspense thriller revolving around seven strangers in search of redemption who rendezvous at a rundown hotel in Lake Tahoe. Co-starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Hemsworth, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Nick Offerman, Cynthia Erivo and Manny Jacinto.
First Man (PG-13 for peril, mature themes and brief profanity) Oscar-winner Damien Chazelle (for La La Land) directed this poignant look at the inner life of astronaut Neil Armstrong over the eight years leading up to his historic lunar landing. With Claire Foy, Shea Whigham and Corey Stoll.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (PG for action, scary images, mature themes, rude humor and mild epithets) Spooky family comedy about three kids (Jeremy Ray Taylor, Caleel Harris and Madison Iseman) who join forces with author R.L. Stine to prevent a ventriloquist’s dummy (Avery Lee Jones) from unleashing an apocalypse on Halloween. Cast includes Wendi McClendon-Covey, Dr. Ken Jeong and Chris Parnell.
INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS
Beautiful Boy (R for profanity, brief sexuality and pervasive drug use) Real-life tale recounting a father’s (Steve Carell) frustration caring for his meth-addicted son (Timothee Chalamet). With Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan, Timothy Hutton and LisaGay Hamilton.
Bigger (PG-13 for profanity, suggestive content, mature themes and brief violence) Rags-to-riches biopic chronicling how siblings Ben (Aneurin Barnard) and Joe Weider (Tyler Hoechlin) overcame poverty and anti-Semitism to found a bodybuilding empire. Supporting cast includes DJ Qualls, Steve Guttenberg and Julianne Hough.
Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer (PG-13 for mature themes and disturbing images) Crime blotter documentary about Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the African-American abortionist sentenced to life in prison for murdering babies in his Philadelphia clinic.
Jane and Emma (PG for mature themes) Faith-based docudrama, set in 1844, recounting the unlikely friendship forged between a free black woman (Danielle Deadwyler) and the wife (Emily Goss) of Mormon founder Joseph Smith (Brad Schmidt). With Ann Bosler, Clotile Bonner and K. Danor Gerald.
Look Away (Unrated) Psychological thriller about a lonely 18-year-old (India Eisley) whose life falls apart when she swaps places with her sinister mirror-image. Cast includes Mira Sorvino, Jason Isaacs and Harrison Gilbertson.
The Oath (R for violence, drug use and pervasive profanity) Dysfunctional family comedy about the argument over presidential politics which has relatives siding with either the husband (Ike Barinholtz) or wife (Tiffany Haddish) hosting Thanksgiving dinner. With John Cho, Billy Magnussen and Jay Duplass.
Sophie (Unrated) Sophia Mitri Schloss plays the title character in this coming of age drama about a teenager trying to wreck her mother’s (Melanie Lynskey) new relationship hoping she will reconcile with her estranged husband. Supporting cast includes John Gallagher, Jr., Danielle Brooks and Tony Hale.