StarfighterX1’s review published on Letterboxd :
Damien Chazelle has only gone and done it again. At the age of 33 he's managed to make 3 exceptional films in the span of 4 years. I still haven't seen his first movie and I do really want to, but even if it's not that great, it still doesn't take away from his incredible filmography he's cultivated at such a young age. This is an expertly directed film and it has a much different style to his other movies. It has a very docudrama style to it. Lots of close ups, crash zooms and handheld camera. It adds a lot of realism and fluidity to the movie. It's also shot on glorious 16mm and 35mm and I think that was a perfect choice, it lent so well to the time period and alongside the slow pacing it made me feel like I was watching a movie from that era. I can see the slow pace of the movie and the somewhat cold approach the movie takes in regards to its subject matter and characters bothering some people, but it really worked for me.
Whilst the space race isn't the main focus of the movie, it was still handled with care and authenticity. The film didn't present it in a romanticized way. It showed that it was incredibly dangerous and highly criticized. It cost lives, money and was a bit of a mess at times. But, it also shows that it was a truly remarkable thing. As someone whose had a fascination with space since a young age, the subject matter already interested me and I thought it was all done incredibly well. It captured the wonder and awe of space, whilst also showing it in a realistic way. It made space travel look terrifying, claustrophobic and lonely alongside all the positive things. The filmmaking in those scenes is also exceptional. The sound design was perfect. They really made you feel like you were in there with the astronauts, or put you in their head space. The extreme close ups of the astronauts faces, the occasional use of POV shots, the intense shakiness of the camera at times and the incredibly loud sound of everything going on around the shuttle and inside it. All of those scenes were really intense and masterfully done. And of course when we get into space and on the Moon everything looks beautiful. Everything in the movie that took place on the Moon are some of my favorite scenes I've ever seen in a film. It was all perfectly done. It has some of the most powerful shots I've ever seen and captures the remarkable nature of the event. And one scene in particular actually made me tear up, which isn't something I do a lot in movies.
But, the main focus of the movie is Neil Armstrong. A very understated man who for the most part doesn't seem to express much emotion on the outside. Aside from some occasional emotional outbursts which Ryan Gosling pulls off wonderfully, we rarely see him be emotional. But we see that inside he is pained. Ryan Gosling's performance is as good as ever. He's stoic, but also manages to express so much with just facial expressions.
The movie is about Neil, it's about isolation, grief, determination, family and detachment from that family. Many of the scenes with his family reminded me a lot of The Tree of Life. They were authentic, natural and beautiful, but also somewhat dreamlike at times. We see the tension between them, but also the love. Claire Foy's performance is also incredible and so are pretty much all the performances, but her's in particular was really effective. The movie did a great job of developing Neil and Janet's relationship in a realistic way and made that final shot so much more powerful.
This could have easily been a schmaltzy, overblown patriotic Hollywood movie if it were in the hands of a lesser director like Peter Berg or someone like that. But, this is an incredibly realistic and understated movie, with moments of pure intensity, drama and emotional poignancy. It was never cheesy or romanticized at any point. It portrayed the people, event and time how it actually was. Not everything is sunshine and rainbows. But, at the end of the day what NASA achieved and what Neil Armstrong did is one of, if not the most incredible moment in human history and the film never looses sight of that.
If I were to have one complaint, I'd say that the shakiness of the camera did get a bit much at times, but that's it and even then it didn't even bother me that much. This is a masterpiece.