FRIDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2018 --At the time - 1969 - the world was in a chaotic state. We made it through the violence of 1968 and were transitioning into some weird kind era. We had the Cold War, the Vietnam War, Nixon, Kent State riot, flower children, LSD, Woodstock, the pennant fever Cubs and the Miracle Mets.


And the space race which the Soviet Union was winning handily. The very costly race to conquer outer space since we weren't doing a very good job on Earth; and America was losing.


But in a span of a few months, NASA sent up rocket after rocket, conducting experiment after experiment at a cost of billions and billions...just to get to the moon before the Reds. Could it be done? Did anyone really care any more. Hell the science fiction show Star Trek had already been yanked off the air because of low ratings. That must have meant something.

But there we were, on July 16, glued to our televisions. Watching really fuzzy pictures of Neil Armstrong as he descended the ladder of the LEM and became the first man on the moon. "One small step for man; on giant leap for mankind." Words that will live forever. (And earn him several million dollars!)


Director Damien Chazelle ("La La Land" and "Whiplash") retells the story of the first lunar landing from the time Armstrong (portrayed by Ryan Gosling) decided to join NASA to his historic first words. It is a combination of "The Right Stuff" and "Apollo 11" with a smattering of "Interstellar" and "Gravity". We get a look at the inner being of Mr Armstrong and his family.


The movie starts out with him test piloting the X-15 rocket plane in the most realistic visualization of what it was really like to pilot one of those early poorly engineered jets. The film then transitions to the Armstrong home, where he and his wife Janet (Claire Foy) are dealing with a malignancy in their youngest daughter's head. The film continues flipping between his life as a pilot/astronaut and his complex personal life.


This storyline makes the film, not just a really cool special effects space movie but a film depicting overcoming failure as the motivating force behind Armstrong and NASA. Even after the capsule fire that killed Gus Grissom (Shea Whigham), Ed White (Jason Clarke), and Roger Chaffee (Cory Michael Smith), the program slogged through Congressional hearings and public outcry to move forward.


Kyle Chandler and Ciarin Hinds give solid performances as the administrative overseers pushing Armstrong and the other astronauts forward despite personal issues. Foy is perfect as the classic 1960's housewife who wants to stay on top of everything her husband is doing, especially if it means he might get killed.


Gosling proves to be a solid choice as Armstrong. He maintains a blunt and hardened demeanor throughout the film. Though he bares little resemblance to Armstrong, he has the astronauts personality down pat. (Armstrong was frequently described as being emotionally void.) There is a meaningless scene of him dancing with his wife, I'm guessing a carryover from "La La Land".


The film was adapted from James R. Hansen's novel First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong - the only authorized story of the astronaut. The IMAX-filmed scenes of the moon are breathtaking.


"First Man" is the space race movie that boomers have been waiting for since 1969. It looks behind the scenes of an epic time in American history and inside the soul of a genuine American hero.   -- GRADE B+ --   GEOFF BURTON