First Man - 5/10
Well before all the wall-to-wall coverage around the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, I had been reading and watching lots of stuff about the Apollo missions. In particular, I finally re-acquired From the Earth to the Moon, the HBO series from 1998, which I still really enjoy. So when I finally sat down to watch First Man, I was geared up for something good.
Sadly, though (and that's exactly the right word), it wasn't particularly enjoyable. While the cinematography was fine, and the emphasis on POV shots and extreme closeups showing the engineeredness of the space vehicles was a more visceral experience than most other representations of the flight experience, the story felt so bland and uninteresting, and the acting so wooden, that it just became depressing.
The story focusses on Neil Armstrong, almost to the exclusion of any other character, even his wife, and the events which the story are based around - you know, that little thing of landing on the moon - are treated almost casually. I know from other documentaries and books that Armstrong was a very reserved, perhaps taciturn, person. But as portrayed by Ryan Gosling he's virtually comatose. He only has one expression - moochy, bordering on clinically depressed. If this movie is to be believed, he barely ever smiled, continually moping through life. It's understandable that the death of his daughter had a tremendous impact on his life, but by making this the driving aspect of the story the significance of the achievement gets totally lost. When the crew are boarding the rocket, when they are preparing to launch the LM, and when Buzz and Neil finally step foot on the moon, they are so sombre it looks like they are being sent to the gallows. Even Michael Collins, who comes across in interviews as the joker of the crew, barely registers an emotion. It's almost as if the film deliberately sets out to make the most emotionless story possible.
Would it have been so bad to lighten the mood a little? To show Neil's determination in the face of his loss? I feel like the film got stuck on one aspect of the story, and forgot about everything else.
If you don't mind slow paced movies, I would recommend this film 8/10. The screenwriter spent 4 years researching Armstrong, including bouncing ideas off the author of the Armstrong biography, James Hansen.
He was famously reserved. Ryan Gosling did a great job given the boundaries set by the actual man.
It was supposed to be true to life, and cheap flourishes that didn't happen weren't added. So no not a typical Hollywood movie pandering to the audience.