First Man follows Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) through the 1960s and the legendary space mission that led him to be the first man to walk on the moon.
It seems that every few years, there’s another big space movie. This year’s major entry continues the recent trend with soulful, grounded performances, yet it didn’t feel as full of grandeur. It was hard to place First Man as the extreme close-ups and private performances felt scaled to an indie, while the sweeping nature of such a renown story sometimes felt too big for such a personal take.
That focus on the personal story and the deep emotional underbelly of Neil Armstrong’s journey shouldn’t be surprising from director Damien Chazelle and actor Ryan Gosling. It’s their second venture together after the 2016 hit, La La Land. Although quite different in style from their jazzy musical, the emotional substance felt very familiar.
Making it to the moon provides an expansive backdrop to showcase the discrete, quiet characters of Neil and Janet Armstrong (Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy). Gosling has become a purveyor of sincere, conflicted performances of late, and here we were able to languish alongside his grief for his daughter and lost friends and intense desire to make it to the moon. Claire Foy deftly meets Gosling’s stoicism and sincerity head on, doing just as much work in her equally tender, quiet performance.
First Man manages to convey the emotion held by its lead while still engaging audiences with space exploration and adventure.