The buttoned-up nature of the character puts Gosling to the test, but he conveys a great deal with mere glances and expressions, some of them directed at his colleague Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll), who has a way of saying what everyone’s thinking, even if, as Armstrong notes, he might be better off just shutting up. The supporting cast includes Jason Clarke and Kyle Chandler, as strong, silent, unemotive types abound.
While the movie definitely plunges into the romance surrounding space exploration, “First Man” also wonderfully and economically sheds light on the era, including budding skepticism about the Apollo program in the late ’60s, as the antiwar movement grew in power and intensity.
Speaking of domestic politics, it’s hard to think of a more inflated “controversy” than the one that greeted the movie’s arrival on the festival circuit, with cries of outrage about the omission of planting the American flag by people who hadn’t seen the movie. Suffice it to say American ingenuity, the race against the Soviet Union and, yes, flags, are all over the screen, albeit in a subtle way that keeps the focus squarely on the protagonist and the mission.
Movies, of course, have had a half-century of space-faring science fiction of various stripes since “2001: A Space Odyssey” opened prior to Armstrong’s famous “giant leap for mankind,” so much so that it’s easy to take that final frontier for granted.
Using every modern tool at its disposal, “First Man” has again presented just how harrowing that frontier was at the time, in the process planting its flag among the year’s best movies.
“First Man” premieres Oct. 12 in the U.S. It’s rated PG-13.