A Neil Armstrong biopic culminating in the monumental Apollo 11 mission to the moon has no reason to leave a viewer cold, and yet this is exactly what has happened with "First Man." For a director whose past work has been radiant and alive (2014's "Whiplash" and 2016's "La La Land"), Damien Chazelle loses his way this time in stodgy convention. Josh Singer's (2013's "The Fifth Estate") screenplay, adapted from the book "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong" by James R. Hansen, fails to bring much depth to its human subject. As this picture sees it, who Armstrong is as a person, as a father and husband, and as an astronaut stems solely from the untimely 1962 death of his toddler daughter Karen (Lucy Stafford). Insight into his past and his love for space exploration are otherwise in such short order, he might as well be a blank canvas.
The narrative opens with a jolt, a perilous 1961 NASA aircraft test Armstrong performed, and yet something is amiss from the start. Without providing this basis for what is happening until the end of the scene, what should be frightening, tense and understandably chaotic is instead jarring, frenetic and self-aware, feeling more like a dream sequence than a legitimate situation of life-or-death stakes. The story that follows is decidedly episodic, spanning eight years (through the aforementioned Apollo 11 voyage in July 1969) as it touches upon major events which occurred to Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) without actually capturing the full breadth of his life or his relationships with wife Janet (Claire Foy) and surviving sons Eric (Gavin Warren, Luke Winters) and Mark (Connor Blodgett). There's Gemini 8, Armstrong's first mission to space alongside pilot Dave Scott (Christopher Abbott). There is the fiery tragedy which befalls Apollo 1, taking the lives of some of Armstrong's friends and colleagues. And there is Apollo 11, portrayed in a third act that hasn't the tension, the reverence, or the emotional gravity it should. As for Armstrong's fellow crew members, Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) and Mike Collins (Lukas Haas), they are so underdeveloped as to be virtual walk-ons.
See Dustin Putman, TheFilmFile.com. for full review