Oh, how I wanted to like this movie. I remember watching the moon landing in 1969. I had the mission profile memorized. I built the humongous Saturn V model, the one with the detachable stages and the lunar module you could dock with the command module. I had a larger scale lunar module on my bedroom dresser. I listened raptly to Walter Cronkite. This was my jam in the 1960s-70s.
That was a good thing, too, because this movie would have been incomprehensible without that background knowledge.
The story focuses (I used that word figuratively) on Neil Armstrong. Unfortunately, the story is told with lots and lots of closeups on Ryan Gosling’s face — we are apparently supposed to figure out what is going on from the expressions flickering across that face, and the faces of the other astronauts and engineers. It doesn’t work for a couple of reasons: 1) they’re all* playing stolid engineers who clearly don’t believe in emotions. Gosling in particular is a repressed robot who occasionally has to let a drop of lubricating fluid trickle out of his eye-holes. 2) We get no context, very few names, very little about the situation. Oh, hey, there’s another robo-astronaut whose name we don’t know, let’s try to guess who it is from the pattern of pores on his nose. 3) Except we can’t actually see those pores, because of the liberal use of shaky-cam. Blurry shaky cam. Sometimes the only action in a scene is the way the lens meanders in and out of focus while the camera wobbles about.
But…big rockets, you say. There must be some wonderful thrilling big-machine-flying-into-the-sky cinematography. Not really. The guy who made this movie seems to think we want an astronaut’s eye view of three Phillips-head screws holding a bracket to an interior wall vibrating wildly. I almost walked out a few times when the shaky-cam got so insane I was starting to feel nauseous.
You want to watch a movie about the space program? Go see Hidden Figures again, or The Right Stuff. They actually manage to tell interesting human stories, and focus the camera at the same time.
Except for Clare Foy, playing Armstrong’s wife, who does express the fact that she’s getting increasingly pissed off as the movie goes on. I identified a lot with her.