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Review: First Man (TIFF 2018)

First Man (TIFF 2018)
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PLOT: A fact-based account of the life of astronaut Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), from his early days at NASA to his eventual command of the Apollo 11 misson.

REVIEW: TIFF can be a difficult festival to see really great movies at. There are just so many excellent movies playing that they can’t help but blend all together, making it difficult to sit up and take notice of a really great film when it comes along, as you’re almost accustomed to excellence at this point.

Even still, it’s hard not to be blown away by Damien Chazelle’s FIRST MAN. We’ve been lucky to have had at least three really good fact-based NASA movies, with Philip Kaufman’s THE RIGHT STUFF being the granddaddy of them all, along with APOLLO 13 and the more recent HIDDEN FIGURES. FIRST MAN slides nicely onto that list, with it amazing that Neil Armstrong’s story hasn’t been done to this point, maybe due to the fact that, as the first man to walk on the moon, he’s been too intimidating for anyone to tackle.

Luckily, Chazelle, fresh off LA LA LAND is up for the challenge, reteaming with star Ryan Gosling in what’s set to be an iconic role for him. Effortlessly conveying Armstrong’s reserve, sensitivity, courage and occasional aloofness, it’s a rich, complex, deeply human performance that doesn’t put him up on a pedestal, but still pays tribute to a great hero.

Chazelle uses the IMAX technology to put us right there with Gosling’s Armstrong through his missions and occasionally frustrating tests. If anything, this drives home the danger of being a pioneer in the space race, with plenty of likeable astronauts paying a high price to put mankind on the moon. As some have mentioned, the jingoism one might expect is mostly absent, focusing instead on Armstrong’s personal journey, with politics mostly in the background - although the Cold War aspect is acknowledged, as is the public’s disenchantment with the high cost of winning the race.

Lean and mean at just over two hours, there’s little fat on the bone here, with the danger and spectacle of the missions being emphasized in a way that’s reminiscent of DUNKIRK. Personal drama does have a place though, with time spent with Armstrong’s wife, played by Claire Foy, who has to deal not only with a frequently absent husband, but also that fact that at the best of times he’s a cool, if loving, character. Their relationship comes off as supportive, but also very real given how their marriage played out in the years that followed his time at NASA.

The supporting cast is similarly ace, but outside of Jason Clarke as Armstrong’s best friend in the program, Ed White, the parts are secondary. Corey Stoll shows up as a rather unsympathetically depicted Buzz Aldrin, Shea Whigham is Gus Grissom, while Patrick Fugit, Lukas Hass, Christopher Abbott and more play fellow trainees. Still, this is Gosling and Foy’s show through and through.

It should be said that Chazelle’s made an impeccably crafted blockbuster, with a terrific score by Justin Hurwitz that, at times, sounds like vintage John Barry. The cinematography is exceptional, with Linus Sandgren’s scope 70MM looking gorgeous on IMAX screens. That format initially seems like a bit of a waste as it only opts for the full IMAX aspect ratio during the moonwalk finale, but when used its a showstopper and makes the format a no brainer if you’re trying to decide whether it’s worth an upgrade.

Certainly, Chazelle’s ascendence to the very top of the A list will continue with FIRST MAN, which seems primed to put him back in Oscar contention, but it’s also a valuable document of what’s still one of the great accomplishments of our time. Neil Armstrong truly is a giant, and you couldn’t have asked for a better tribute.

 


 
Source: JoBlo.com

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