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It will make you see the world as one community – at least, for a little while.

Damien Chazelle, the director of the heavenly “La La Land” (also starring Ryan Gosling), takes to the heavens again with this based-on-a-true story tale about the first man to walk on the moon.

Based on James R. Hansen’s biography of Neil Armstrong (played here by Gosling), the movie contains elements of romance, tragedy, drama and action, all sewn together seamlessly by Chazelle’s deft hand.

When we first see Armstrong, he is a serious man who is part of a space program that requires not only great intellect but courage. He’s determined and no-nonsense, almost to a fault.

At home, it’s a different story. He lovingly cuddles his 2-year-old daughter while he sings her a song about the moon. And he dances with his wife Janet (the wonderful Claire Foy.)

This isn’t all hearts and roses, though. Armstrong endures tragedies, but remains stoic to all outward appearances. Meanwhile, he becomes so absorbed in his work as NASA works up to the Apollo 11 launch that Janet ends up being the one responsible for raising their children.

She ensures that she’s not the only one who’s a parent, though. Before he takes off, she informs him that he will be the one that has a sit-down with his kids to tell them that he might not be coming back.

The movie doesn’t focus on NASA’s detractors, but it does show us news clips about people who voiced their dissent about the program (there’s a great scene that involves Gil Scott-Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon.”)

Always, Armstrong is at the center. Gosling shines in several scenes, including one in which he finally weeps with emotion because he knows no one else will see him, and another in which he wordlessly looks at his wife through a glass. Foy and Gosling have chemistry that never leaves a doubt in our minds whether these two people love each other, despite uneasy situations and bickering.

The flight scenes, including test flights, are incredible. I didn’t see this in a D-Box seat (it moves with the action on the screen) but I kind of wish I had. I did see it in the IMAX auditorium, where I was cocooned in the cockpit with the astronauts and jarred by the roar of engines.

Chazelle knows when to slow down the film’s fantastic score by Justin Hurwitz - in fact, one of the most compelling scenes is shown in utter silence, which makes it all the more stunning.

Take a friend and take this flight.


Film critic/reporter since 1985 at Quad-City Times. Society of Professional Journalists, Broadcast Film Critics Association and Alliance of Women Film Journalists member. Member of St. Mark Lutheran Church.