First Man (2018)

Thanks to extraordinary direction by Damien Chazelle and a series of strong performances, this dramatized version of the events leading up to Apollo 11’s televised moon landing in 1969 manages to overcome some stiff dialogue and an inaccessible lead character. It’s admirable that Chazelle makes an attempt to build a three-dimensional on-screen character for astronaut Neil Armstrong, who was the first person to walk on the moon, but it’s a shame that Armstrong’s extraordinary real-life accomplishments are far more interesting than he is as a character. Muted, self-centered and uncommunicative, he’s not exactly a spark of life, and Ryan Gosling’s understated performance doesn’t manage to communicate much depth. Instead, it’s up to a star-studded supporting cast to do the majority of the heavy lifting, in particular Claire Foy as his long-suffering wife, and an underused Patrick Fugit, who manages to make a strong impression despite limited dialogue and screentime. In the end the movie is a success thanks to Chazelle’s confident and fluid direction, not to mention a memorable score by Justin Hurwitz, but it’s held back from greatness by its cipher of a central character.

Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)

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