The film opens with Neal Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) test piloting an X-15 rocket plane when he accidentally bumps off into outer space. Keeping his cool, Neal returns to earth safely. His domestic life is not so safe, as his young daughter is terminal with a brain tumor. A stoic man with a stoic wife named Janet (Claire Foy), Neal tries to problem solve his daughter’s illness with the same detached precision of engineering and flying an X-15.
When his daughter dies, Neal channels his anguish into his work. With the space race in hot competition with the Soviet Union, Neal commands a Gemini spacecraft, which almost spins into disaster. Showing his grit and intelligence under extreme pressure, Neal is eventually named the commander of Apollo 11 and the rest is history.
Visually, First Man does not disappoint. Enhancing actual NASA footage with computer software, First Man will be playing in mainstream theaters (as well as at the Ft. Lauderdale Museum of Discovery IMAX six-story screen for the rest of this month. While there, check out the Archimedes Exhibit).
For all of its bells and whistles, the theme of First Man is how a family copes with grief. Besides the loss of their daughter, there is the loss of colleagues from accidents. The pain of grief is real, but how one deals with loss presents character. With understated nuance, Gosling and Foy have earned awards for their stoic performances. Expect some buzz for First Man when the awards season begins.
In two weeks, the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival (FLIFF) kicks off its three weeks of international films, parties and merry making. To coincide with the screening of Return of the Hero, FLIFF will be hosting a French Garden Party at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood on Friday, Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m.
The opening gala is always a special event, but this may be the most important. Given the natural disaster of Hurricane Michael and its devastation of the Florida Panhandle, 50 percent of full price general admission tickets sales will be dedicated to relief efforts for Mexico Beach. The Hard Rock Auditorium can seat 3500 seats, so there is the potential to raise $21,000 dollars to help our Florida neighbors to rebuild their lives. To purchase a ticket, please visit this website — www.fliff.com/movies and scroll down to Return of the Hero.