First Man directed by Damien Chazelle [8/10]

Tread with care, filmmaker! Biopics seem to paralyze screenwriters and directors, so I approached “First Man“—examining the life of one of the Twentieth Century’s icons, Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon—with trepidation. I need not have worried. Josh Singer’s screenplay, closely based on James R. Hansen’s 2005 biography of the same name, is wonderful, focusing on both the astronaut’s inner life and the juddering, fraught, cramped life of space pioneers. Director Damien Chazelle has followed up “La La Land” with a filmic perspective of alternatively majestic and muted intelligence. Long at 141 minutes, it should have been ponderous but instead time in the cinema just slips away. And the acting! I’ve idolized Ryan Gosling since the masterpiece “Drive” and here he inhabits Armstrong, illuming both his social reticence and his driven engineering passion. Claire Foy – is there a part she can’t play? – steals the show as Janet Armstrong. The cinematography, the music, the pacing . . . all wonderful. So go see “First Man” to find out how deep and sharp movies can be at illuminating history.

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