'First Man' is a first rate movie

Marilyn Robitaille
Marilyn Robitaille

People of a certain age generally remember where they were on the evening of July 20, 1969. An estimated 530 million were huddled around black and white television sets watching Neil Armstrong take that famous “step for mankind” on the lunar surface. Filmmakers capture the elements of the adventure, hard work, and high drama that went into the process in “First Man” and give audiences a (dare I say stellar) ringside seat to all of it.

The talented Ryan Gosling takes center stage to star as the complicated Neil Armstrong. His abilities as a space engineer and test pilot are unsurpassed, so it comes as no surprise that he rises through the nascent NASA ranks quickly. Armstrong has no-nonsense qualities and a razor sharp mind, but at times his dedication to being the best astronaut comes at a price. His wife Janet Armstrong (Claire Foy) sometimes gets short shrift, especially when Armstrong just can’t communicate his emotions.

When he’s ready to leave for the big trip, it’s Janet who forces him to sit down with their son Rick (Gavin Warren) to explain the gravity of the situation. His father would be leaving, and there’s no guarantee that he’ll ever be coming back.

Strength, courage, and force of will constitute as much of the elements of success as do strategic engineering know-how. Big personalities like NASA director Deke Slayton (Kyle Chandler) and co-moon walker Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll), portrayed to perfection, add to the film’s success.

With just the right balance of galactic pizzazz and human frailty, “First Man” does justice to our national space history. It’s definitely worth the price of a movie ticket, even if it won’t take you to the moon.

Rated PG-13 for some thematic content involving peril, and brief strong language

Marilyn Robitaille writes film reviews for the Stephenville Empire-Tribune and Glen Rose Reporter.