Nightlife Film Review High Moon Ryan Gosling Is Stellar in Damien Chazelle's Tightly Coiled Space Biopic

By Gire, Dann | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), October 12, 2018 | Go to article overview

Nightlife Film Review High Moon Ryan Gosling Is Stellar in Damien Chazelle's Tightly Coiled Space Biopic


Gire, Dann, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Dann Gire Daily Herald Film Critic

The sounds of silence make lots of noise in Damien Chazelle's surprising, anti-epic, historical drama "First Man," a tightly coiled study of the first human to set foot on the lunar surface of Earth's largest satellite.

Surprising because "First Man" refuses to capitalize on the easy romanticism, heroic mythologizing and patriotic bombast its subject matter can so readily inspire.

Surprising because Ryan Gosling's underplayed performance as quiet, stoic astronaut Neil Armstrong (could there be a more American movie hero name?) allows the tiniest cracks in his placid veneer to flood the screen with choked emotions.

Surprising because "First Man" stylistically veers so far away from Chazelle's two recent movies -- the explosive musicals "Whiplash" and Oscar-winning "Lala Land" -- it certifies this young director to be much more than a Johnny Two-Note.

Gosling, exemplifying the economic cool of an earlier generation's Gary Cooper, displays his right stuff at the beginning of "First Man" when Armstrong pilots his X-15 on a test flight, taking it so high that it slips into the edge of space where he can no longer control the craft.

It's only the first of several gut-grabbing sequences that spell out just how dangerous the race for space exploration can be and how coldly analytical the explorers must be.

Accompanied by insidiously effective sound effects and discombobulating shakey cameras, the sequence suggests the frightening fragility of the primitive 1960s technologies.

We witness Armstrong's unflappable demeanor under pressure, a quality that doesn't serve him so well back on Earth where he and his wife Janet (Claire Foy) mourn the death of their little daughter Karen, killed by cancer.

If Foy snags an Oscar nomination here, it will be for the scene where she forces Armstrong to sit down with his two sons and explain to them he might not return from his upcoming trip to the moon aboard Apollo 11. …

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