Gravity used space to explore the existential alienation brought on by the death of a child. The Martian used space to explore human ingenuity and drive at the level of nuts and bolts and chemistry. Director Damien Chazelle’s latest gives us a mashup of the two that is sadly less engaging than either, and not just because it hews to the real-life story of the United States’ space program and astronaut Neil Armstrong. Why go to space? Early on, Armstrong says it’s worth doing for a change of perspective — and heaven knows the grieving dad needs one. But the film’s focus on his personal mission — the rest of the team mostly seems intent on beating the Russians — has the dramatic effect of making all the consequent expense and sacrifice about Armstrong and his sadness, which is, of course, crazily solipsistic. As for the nitty-gritty nuts-and-bolts, we get to see plenty of problems, but not much problem-solving. And while the big finish is appropriately big, star Ryan Gosling’s impassive visage must have the gravitational pull of a black hole, because Chazelle can’t seem to keep his camera from being pulled loose from its moorings and drawn in thisclose for more than one or two scenes at a time. That’s fine during the tense opening, as Armstrong bounces a rocket plane off the earth’s atmosphere. Back on earth, it gets old fast.
Length: 2 hours, 18 minutes