**** (out of 4)
Whether it’s Abraham Lincoln (Lincoln) or Winston Churchill (Darkest Hour), well-known historical figures have always been susceptible to idolatrous movie treatments. But that’s especially true in the case of Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), the subject of Damien Chazelle’s First Man. By now, after all, Apollo 11 has become an indelible part of our national mythology. Armstrong’s “small step for man” one-liner is virtually synonymous with American triumph, and in traditional tellings of American history, his moonwalk always stands out as a rare unifying moment in the otherwise turbulent landscape of the late 1960s.
Thankfully, First Man calls out this conventional understanding of Apollo 11 for what it really is: historical amnesia.