First Man takes a decade out of the real life of astronaut Neil Armstrong, chronicling his involvement in both the Gemini program and the Apollo missions, as well as his historic walk on the moon on July 21, 1969. This movie plays like a sequel to 1983's The Right Stuff, about the original Mercury 7 astronauts. And yes, this movie is worthy enough to be mentioned alongside The Right Stuff.
First Man is directed by Damien Chazelle and based on James R. Hansen's book about Armstrong. Chazelle, writer and director of Whiplash (2014) and La La Land (2016), proves once again that he is the real deal. He literally puts you in the cockpit of the seemingly rickety spacecraft as they shimmy and rattle with only two small windows to see out of. It's claustrophobic and terrifying!
At the core of the film is Armstrong and his wife, Janet, dealing with the loss of their young daughter. Ryan Gosling plays Neil Armstrong, and is effectively low-key as a man who keeps his emotions bottled up inside, but who also has a very analytical mind. Claire Foy, as Janet, delivers a strong performance which could have easily been the generic dutiful wife who watches the launches with concern. Now, those scenes are in the movie, but screenwriter Josh Singer (Spotlight, The Post) shows us a complex woman who is not only grieving a loss, but also raising young boys while worrying that her husband may not return from a mission one day, and she doesn't sit by and take NASA's bullsh*t.
The entirety of First Man employs the dreaded hand-held shaky camera and it is occasionally bothersome, but mostly effective, especially when we are inside a rocket.