Damien Chazelle’s La La Land follow-up First Man opens with an assault of sight and sound – no title cards, no geography, no real explanation of what we’re looking at, aside from the terror of nearly crashing. That sequence is like a code key to the movie, which is by definition a biopic of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. But this isn’t a traditional biopic; it’s all about perspective, all seen from his point of view, less concerned with history of that mission’s impact than with what it was like to be him. And he doesn’t exactly let you in – this guy was the very definition of the strong, silent type, and star Ryan Gosling leans into that squareness, daring us to peer in to his up-tight close-ups and find the guy inside.
Because of that, the climactic dramatization of the moon landing proper is not what we’ve come to expect from a movie like this. There are none of the standbys: no coverage of mission control, no shots of the crying spouses, no archival footage of Walter Cronkite. It’s just there with him, in the moment, an iconic snapshot of history rendered newly immediate by this approach. And that approach to the event is why the nonsensical controversy surrounding the film is so absurd; the kind of Michael Bay/Peter Berg, plant-the-flag-as-the-music-swells imagery these people seem to long for would stick out like a sore thumb. Why, it’s almost as though people who haven’t seen a film shouldn’t criticize it.
The Old Man & the Gun – David Lowery’s “mostly true” story of an aged gentleman outlaw who robbed banks around the Midwest and Southwest, both solo and with his crew, dubbed “The Over the Hill Gang” – is set in 1981, and feels like it could’ve come out then, too. That year found filmmaking wobbling on the precipice between the auteur ‘70s and the movie star ‘80s, in which a personality-driven comedy/drama for grown-ups could find an audience. And this one probably will too, albeit a smaller one; it’s a gentle, funny crowd-pleaser with a melancholy streak, reportedly the final film Robert Redford will make before his retirement from the screen, according to Rolling Stone.
So it’s a showcase for his presence: his voice, his grin, and his eyes, those eyes, eyes that have seen some things. He spends a fair amount of the film playing opposite Sissy Spacek, sipping iced tea on her porch or eating pie at the diner, contemplating dashed dreams and looming mortality. There’s such ease and joy of performance in his scenes with her (and Danny Glover, and Tom Waits); these old pros have been on camera for so long, it’s like second nature. It’s a lovely picture, and an appropriate send-off for a true legend.
One of my favorite things about The Sisters Brothers, the latest from director Jacques Audiard, is that although it maintains the high quality of earlier efforts like A Prophet and Rust and Bone, you’d absolutely never guess it was made by the same guy. He seems to shed the style and subject of each picture like a skin; this time, he’s telling a story of mid-19th century America, a Western with splashes of a road movie and a Horace Greeley-style adventure tale thrown in.
Audiard meanders through the frontier, engagingly, with a pair of double acts (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed), and each of them gets a chance to shine. But the best moments belong to Reilly, funny and touching as a sensitive man of the gun who wants to be better, smarter, and more understanding, if he could just get his damn fool brother to settle down. Darkly funny and often deeply disorienting, with a marvel of an ending.