2 hr. 18 min. | Rated M | Offensive language.
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Brian d’Arcy James, Corey Stoll, Kyle Chandler, Jon Bernthal
Ryan Gosling shines in this remarkably told Neil Armstrong biopic
Asked to name a great all American hero, many of us might plump for Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon.
What the opening film of the Venice Film Festival shows poignantly is that he did not fit that bill at all. Armstrong was a quiet, almost monosyllabic man unable to engage properly with family or friends and either incapable of showing feelings, or perhaps just finding them a distraction from the business in hand.
Ryan Gosling is not exactly a stranger to playing introverted characters. But this was a special challenge: to play such a person while inspiring the audience to view him as still worthy of a form of adulation.
Gosling manages it superbly. Reunited with La La Land director Damien Chazelle, he guides us through eight years of space flights, mishaps and tragedies leading up to the 1969 landing. The tension is constant and told not through the usual paraphernalia of space movies, but often through Gosling’s face.
As his wife Jan, Claire Foy is an exquisite study in 1960s American housewife acceptance. Acceptance of her husband’s refusal to communicate with her or their children properly, especially after the death of their young daughter.
Perhaps, most of all, it is a reminder of the astronauts who were lost in the years of preparation for the venture. Armstrong wouldn’t have gone at all if colleagues who were friends and neighbours hadn’t been killed.
All this is set to a backdrop of conventional American suburbia, with its cookie-swapping customs and assorted repressions. It is Gosling’s great achievement that he can convey so much while speaking so relatively little. Indeed, Armstrong's famous line – “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” – is one of his longer speeches.
All credit to Chazelle, too. In a film that has the Moon landing and multiple rocket launches, he resists the obvious temptation to rely on technical wizardry. This is a human story, remarkably well told.