Ryan Gosling reteams with his Oscar-winning La La Land director Damien Chazelle for this examination of astronaut Neil Armstrong and the effort that went into the first moon landing in 1969.
Opening with an excruciatingly tense test flight above the atmosphere in an X-15 rocket-powered aircraft, Chazelle states his intentions to locate the viewer inside Armstrong's perspective, a point of view from which he rarely wavers.
The film then explores a little known tragic aspect of Armstrong's personal life before progressing through the 60s as Nasa struggles to beat the Soviets to the moon, a journey that entails a tangible sense of grit and determination on the part of a huge number of people. It also involves much loss of life and considerable personal sacrifice.
Though the film seeks to humanise the enigmatic Armstrong, it respectfully stops short of glib psychoanalysis. You get to know him a little better, but he remains ultimately somewhat unknowable. In a good way.
Gosling, an opaque actor at the best of times, is well-cast as the quietly impressive Armstrong, an engineer-turned-pilot intensely focused on getting the job done, and done right. Gosling evokes a powerful sense of stoicism without ever spilling over into cliche heroics. You get the sense Armstrong himself would have approved.
As Armstrong's (then) wife Janet, Claire Foy (The Crown) does a great job of representing the pressures on the people surrounding the astronauts. There's a bevy of strong supporting performances, most notably from the underrated, increasingly ubiquitous Aussie actor Jason Clarke (Mudbound), and the always-appealing Kyle Chandler (Bloodline).
Chazelle has created an instant classic with First Man, intimate and epic in equal measure, a stirring and inspirational ode to one of humanity's greatest achievements. It will linger with you long after the credits roll.
Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy
M (Offensive language)
Uplifting in every sense of the word.