Monday, October 22, 2018
First Man, the new Neil Armstrong biopic starring Ryan Gosling, opens with him falling up. Armstrong is testing a new high-altitude rocket plane when his controls freeze and he starts bouncing off the atmosphere into the inky blackness of space. The scene is one of a handful in the film that captures, perhaps better than any other astronaut flick, the heart-skipping unpredictability and spine-rattling ferocity of spaceflight. But we can watch Gosling’s face (as pretty as it might be) shake and grimace for only so long before the trick gets old, which is exactly what happens by the final scene, a sweeping crescendo of light and moonscape that should have stirred but instead just sputters. Still, the film succeeds on enough other fronts to make the trip worthwhile — Gosling’s Armstrong demystifies the American hero to a compelling degree, our space race with the Russians provides a nicely disguised undercurrent of urgency to the whole adventure, and the score incorporates a Theremin and other odd instruments that keeps our focus on an otherworldly plane.