First Man ★★★½

This is the first time I really felt Damien Chazelle getting in his own way, and perhaps that’s due to demands of Importance!™ given its basis in a watershed historical moment for mankind. There are some nice hints at the network of connections and contrasts between the infinite and the infinitesimal, but too much of this feels a bit like Chazelle and cinematographer Linus Sandgren imposing a “Tree of Life” aesthetic on a film that doesn’t quite earn it. Where it shines is in its depiction of both the vim – and violence of physics – required to rocket someone into space. In these moments, it finds an uncannily hushed serenity that the boilerplate back-home stuff just cannot. (Weird to cast Claire Foy in such a standard-issue grass-is-greener sort of storyline, shortchange their marital connection and then hinge the final shot on said connection.) Justin Hurwitz’s score is also magnificent from front to back. I don’t quite understand the kvetching about Gosling’s emotional placidity. There’s a lot running deep, as there often is with Gosling – to the point where I think he’s bringing a lot that’s just not in his script (albeit perhaps attuned to his wavelength with Chazelle). He makes his grief over burying a child feel like the equation he can’t balance, makes you feel that tension between the potential and perseverance of space flight to inspire in life versus the specter of death and doubt that surrounds it. But a more interesting movie would devote a bit more time to whether Neil Armstrong viewed this as an escape of sorts as well as an achievement. Then again, people get upset that there’s not a five-minute, unedited sequence of the American flag planted on the moon. (And, I mean, you can see the flag if you’re looking.) A solid effort, but Chazelle and company jettison a bit more of the bravura than they may have thought.