Ryan Gosling is excellent as Neil Armstrong in next Wednesday’s film, First Man

First Man

Adapted from James R Hansen’s book by Spotlight screenwriter, First Man is similar in tone to Philip Kaufman’s The Right Stuff. Sombre and respectful, this is a film that is immersed in its 1960s setting, without making that an end in itself. Ryan Gosling’s excellent central performance takes the insular, quiet man of space travel and turns him into a fascinating enigma.

There is a suggestion here that Neil Armstrong was caught up in grief, following the death of his daughter, but this is really just a hook on which to hang a narrative that even the youngest of viewers will know. For the most part, it is a primer on the bravery – and possibly recklessness – required to hurl three men out into space inside a glorified bucket. When an exasperated Janet Armstrong (sensitively played by Claire Foy) accuses them of being “boys playing with toys made out of balsa wood”, you are on her side.

Superbly filmed on a range of film stocks and with a haunting theremin based score by Justin Hurwitz, the film often has the feel of a dramatized documentary with a meticulous attention to detail that will have you marvelling that they ever managed to pull this extraordinary feat of science and engineering off.

By David Vass