"First Man" covers the life of Neil Armstrong and the 1969 moon landing. It does a excellent job of chronicling the events leading to the moon landing but the concentration is less on action/adventure and more on Armstrong's personal life and relationships.
Ryan Gosling excels as the emotionally inhibited Armstrong. Claire Foy is brilliant as Armstrong's neglected and sometimes exasperated wife, Janet.
"First Man" explores the way that individuals deal with loss. In Amstrong's case, the loss was the death of his young daughter. The cerebral Armstrong is unable to face his grief and instead swallows his emotions, refusing to even talk about his daughter's passing. His emotional shut down deeply affects his marriage and his relationship with his other children. Armstrong's trip to the moon serves as the perfect metaphor for the distance he puts between himself and his feelings as well as the distance he puts between himself and his family. Ironically, Armstrong must go to the most isolated place that mankind has ever been in order to reconnect with his soul.
"First Man" is propelled by a brilliant and haunting score.
I went to "First Man" expecting something similar to "Apollo 13" or "The Right Stuff" (two of my favorite movies) but it is a much quieter, personal and contemplative movie than those action/adventure oriented space films. Don't get me wrong; "First Man" has plenty of action. When astronauts are depicted blasting off in their tiny space capsules, you can almost feel the seismic explosions of the rocket engines. Similarly, the sequence depicting the nearly catastrophic moon landing, as Armstrong deftly manuevers the landing vehicle to safety with seconds to spare, is truly riveting.
A film depicting the moon landing has to be visually flawless and "First Man" comes as close and you can get to that standard. The government may not have been able to stage the moon landing in the '60's as conspiracy theorists contend, but Hollywood could certainly do it today. The film brilliantly portrays the stark emptiness and quietness of the moon's surface in a way that seems completely authentic.
You don't come away from First Man feeling exhillaration or patriotic ferver as you might expect from a movie about America's triumphant moon landing, instead the feeling is much more down-to-earth. At its core "First Man" is a movie about human connection.