First Man

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Bottom line: I expected to like this better.

It is, as you have probably heard, a look at the life of Neil Armstrong, first man to set foot on the lunar surface. It covers, roughly, 8 years (1961-1969) out of his 82-year life (1930-2012). But they were probably the most eventful. It is based on a biography by James R. Hansen (who is a history prof at Auburn, not the same guy as NASA's global warming doomsayer).

Ryan Gosling plays Armstrong as a shut-down, closed-off introvert, only emotionally moved by the 1962 death of his two-year-old daughter from the complications arising from her cancer treatment. Other than that heartbreak, the movie concentrates on Armstrong's and NASA's fumbles and bumbles along the way: a dramatic X-15 flight; the near-fatal Gemini 8; the loss of astronauts See and Bassett in a jet crash; the Apollo 1 fire; the crash of one of the lunar lander trainers where Armstrong had to eject.

In addition, a number of Apollo-naysayers are featured: Kurt Vonnegut bemoaning that the Apollo money could be spent on making New York City liveable; Gil Scot-Heron performing his protest piece "Whitey on the Moon". Sigh.

I've seen the major spaceflight movies; this one is notable for portraying (accurately, as far as I know) the noise and vibration involved in strapping yourself to rockets. Somewhat impressive.

The movie looks so hard at the bad and dangerous stuff, the triumphs are glossed over. The actual moon landing is anticlimactic. Buzz Aldrin comes across as kind of a jerk. Armstrong's wife, Janet, has a major role, mainly being worried about Neil not coming back. A major scene shows a quarrel about whether/how Armstrong should speak to his kids before setting off for the moon.

But the movie makes me want to read the book.