By Shelby Daniel
The story of the moon landing is a story everyone already knows the ending to, but First Man pleasantly surprised me.
However, Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of Neil Armstrong did not take me through the astronaut’s journey. Damien Chazelle’s direction drove most of the movie’s narrative.
While Gosling did give an admirable performance, what blew me away was how the journey was framed and delivered. Like every shot from the Whiplash and La La Land, the director captured the intense longing and determination of Armstrong that fueled his mission to the moon.
Chazelle consistently returned to certain motifs in his directing throughout the movie that instilled the powerful experience of an ordinary man making a giant leap for mankind. The story naturally leant itself to the possibility breathtaking direction and cinematography, and Chazelle definitely delivered.
Despite the story hinged on its viewing experience and not the strength of dialogue, there was one standout performance. It came as no surprise to me that Claire Foy absolutely stunned as Janet Armstrong. The Emmy Winner known for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in Netflix’s “The Crown” brought passion to a supporting role that made it the most enjoyable of the movie.
Foy showcased the struggle of a woman whose family could potentially lose yet another member in a raw and realistic way. After the death of–minor spoiler alert–the Armstrong’s daughter at the beginning of the movie, the family holds on by a thread.
Foy portrayed Janet as a mother and wife grasping at composure, but somehow she keeps it for the sake of her two remawining children. She is the only character that forces Neil to fully confront the possibility that he may not return from his mission.
It is through Foy’s performance that we are reminded the purpose of telling Neil Armstrong’s story. First Man is not about how we got to the moon, but shows the impact of a groundbreaking mission on a family that was just as normal as any other.
There were some moments that I wished the narrative would speed up, that I wished the audience would finally just be able to see the ending we all knew was coming.
It was worth it, though. The slow and steady build up assisted by Chazelle’s direction and Foy’s performance made the massive mission feel personal. It felt like every member of the audience was there taking the first step on the moon, too.