The first major Oscar contender soars to the moon and back – as one of the most pivotal moments in history gets that personal touch.

This biopic of the first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong, is a viscerally-engaging and sometimes emotional affair – that re-teams Academy-award winning La La Land director Damian Chazelle with his Oscar-nominated lead man Ryan Gosling.

The movie portrays the life of the quiet and unassuming test pilot Armstrong (Gosling) from 1961 – and shows his inner struggles early in the piece after his young daughter passes away due to cancer.

But after landing a job with NASA to partake in their fledgling Gemini missions – a pre-cursor to the Apollo project in later years – he, his doting wife Janet (Claire Foy from TV series The Crown) and son, move to an astronaut community in Houston to help mend the sadness of their tragic loss.

His new astronaut colleagues include first man to walk in space, Ed White (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ Jason Clarke), Elliott See (Almost Famous’ Patrick Fugit), Deke Slayton (Super 8’s Kyle Chandler), and Armstrong’s famous Apollo 11 mission colleagues Buzz Aldrin (Ant-Man’s Corey Stoll) and Mike Collins (Inception’s Lukas Haas).

But sadly as the United States tries to keep pace with the Soviet Union’s space spotlight-stealing escapades, it ultimately leads to tragedy – and Armstrong has to cope with more heartache as accidents lead to the inevitable loss of life. Which leads to Armstrong fighting silently in anguish, despite his stoic demeanour.

And it’s here where the movie is at its best, providing a palpable and hair-raising sense of what it was like to be inside a spacecraft during these experimental years – where every minute could perilously threaten your life.

This can be seen through not just the eyes of all those connected to NASA, but also through Armstrong’s wife Janet, who lives in dread after witnessing the terrible losses to now-widows in the tight-knit community. There’s a particularly moving scene just prior to Armstrong’s mission to land on the moon, where the reserved man struggles to explain to his two sons that he may never come back.

But despite strong performances from Gosling and Foy, it’s actually when First Man’s grounded that it doesn’t quite live up to the heights of the breathless movie-stealing sequences when it’s airborne. It doesn’t go into enough depth in several crucial areas – leaving you clamouring for just a bit more back story – to coherently link together to quite be a masterpiece, even though it isn’t far off it, and undoubtedly still one of the films of the year.

You’ll definitely believe they put a man on the moon after this.

Rating: 4/5

Gavin Miller

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Pablo Schreiber, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Ethan Embry, Ciaran Hinds, Olivia Hamilton, Lukas Haas, Christopher Abbott, Patrick Fugit, Cory Michael Smith & Shea Whigham

Running Time: 2 Hrs21 Mins

Director: Damien Chazelle

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