TIFF review: First Man

Damien Chazelle and actor Ryan Gosling follow up La La Land with soaring biopic about astronaut Neil Armstrong

FIRST MAN SPEC D: Damien Chazelle. U.S. 130 min. Sep 12-16, 6 pm, Scotiabank 12 Sep 15 also at 9:30 pm, Princess Of Wales. See listing. Rating: NNNN

Chazelle and Ryan Gosling follow the exuberance of La La Land with a project both bigger and smaller. It follows eight years in the life of Neil Armstrong, the test pilot who joined the Gemini project and eventually became the first man on the moon.

Like Chazelle’s Whiplash, it’s a story of punishment making perfect, as Armstrong weathers one trauma after another to achieve greatness – but this time around, the goal is big enough to be worth the sacrifice.

Gosling gives one of his most contained performances, tuning out the world like a radio to focus on the task at hand – the retro-rocket that won’t fire, the gyroscope that won’t stop spinning, the ground that won’t stop coming up at him.

Claire Foy matches his quiet commitment as Janet Armstrong, and though the film doesn’t dwell on the Armstrong’s marriage, we quickly understand why these two belong together.

As for the space stuff – well, it’s magnificent. Aware they’re treading similar territory to Philip Kaufman’s The Right Stuff and Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, Chazelle and cinematographer Linus Sandgren strike off in a more impressionistic direction with First Man’s space sequences, chasing moments of rapture in the darkness. Armstrong’s doing the same.

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