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TIFF 2018: First Man Is An Intense (And Intensely Familiar) Space Movie

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Who’s Behind It

Oscar-winning filmmaker Damien Chazelle (La La Land, Whiplash) directs Spotlight screenwriter Josh Singer’s adaptation of James R. Hansen’s Neil Armstrong biography.

Who’s In It

Ryan Gosling plays the legendary Armstrong, Claire Foy plays his wife Janet, and a range of other actors (including Christopher Abbott, Jason Clarke, Patrick Fugit, and Lukas Haas) play other astronauts in peril.

Who’ll Love It

Anyone with a passion for reality-based space dramas Apollo 13, The Right Stuff, and HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon. First Man should also please fans of Ryan Gosling’s increasingly stoic, tight-lipped performance style.

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What’s It About

Haunted by the death of his young daughter, Neil Armstrong attempts to start a new life by having a second son with his wife Janet and pursuing ambitions beyond planet Earth. An accomplished test pilot, Armstrong takes bold risks in pursuit of his astronautical aspirations and is brought close to his own premature demise on several occasions.

Meanwhile, he looks on from the sidelines as several of his colleagues are killed in tragic accidents. But before he has a chance to panic, Armstrong gets a life-changing lucky break: he is approached to join NASA’s Apollo 11 mission to the moon, a high-risk opportunity—that could give him a permanent place in the history books.

Why You Should See It

Right from its pulse-quickening opening, First Man has a visceral intensity that’s unheard of in the long history of NASA movies. While it doesn’t take long for the film to settle into a more familiar history lesson, the opening leaves you anticipating more high stakes set pieces—and director Damien Chazelle delivers precisely that.

In addition, Ryan Gosling proves to be well cast as the introverted astronaut deeply affected by his daughter’s death, a tragic event that occurs early in the film and continues to play a role in Armstrong’s journey right through the film’s resonant finale. Unfortunately, Chazelle and screenwriter Josh Singer skew closer to the Hollywood conventionality of Apollo 13 than the textured complexity of The Right Stuff or the mystical otherworldliness of For All Mankind, but First Man strikes its familiar chords with a conviction and skill that should leave most viewers satisfied.

When You Can See It

From now until Sunday, First Man screens at Scotiabank Theatre every day at 6:00 p.m. You can also see the film at the Visa Screening Room on Saturday night at 9:30 p.m. The film launches in theatres everywhere on October 12. Check out the trailer below.