First Man

DRAMA; 2hr 21min

STARRING: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy

One small step… Gosling (with Haas, left, and Stoll) goes to work

At the comparatively tender age of 33, director Damien Chazelle has two cinema milestones stacked up with 2014’s Whiplash and 2016’s La La Land. Those movies couldn’t be more tonally diverse, yet each is inward-looking and illuminating. Chazelle is on epic territory with the eight-year evolution of astronaut Neil Armstrong (Gosling) from daredevil test pilot to the first man to plant his space boots on the Moon, on July 21, 1969. But this story is also deeply personal, taking its deferential time with Armstrong’s home life with his first wife, Janet (Foy), and their two young sons, in tandem with the dangers and deaths that dogged the lead-up to the revolutionary Moon mission.


With a 141-minute runtime, The Post screenwriter Josh Singer’s treatment of James R. Hansen’s 2005 Armstrong biography has the luxury of the scrupulous detail and technical expertise essential to mapping complex external and internal landscapes. The shuddering, claustrophobic cacophony of a rocket launch, the celestial release of liberation in space, the toll that journey takes on loved ones, the terrifying fallout of technical failure and the mystical thrill of navigating the unknown are as urgently and viscerally present as the escalating tension in the Armstrong home.


Working once again with Chazelle, post–La La, Gosling plays Armstrong as intensely private and unassuming: a bloke you’d want on board in a crisis, but by no means the easiest book to read. Foy’s candid, courageous Janet is the beating heart of the household, struggling with the unenviable duty of standing and waiting. By the time Apollo 11 blasts forth from Earth in a transporting ball of fire, with Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) and Michael Collins (Lukas Haas) on board, whatever may transpire between husband and wife, you’re unquestionably bound to them both.