The premiere of the new Universal Pictures film First Man was an incredible cinematic experience at the Toronto International Film Festival. Audiences screened the film at the dome-shaped Cinesphere on an IMAX screen — appropriate for this narrative with a setting in outer space. Filmmaker Damien Chazelle stated before the screening started, that several scenes were shot in IMAX and he was excited that we can see the film in its best form.
Chazelle teams up with the award-winning team from La La Land and has executive producer Steven Spielberg along for the ride in this groundbreaking story about the first man to ever walk on the moon, aeronautical engineer Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling). Based on James R. Hansen’s book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, the movie takes us through the decade leading up to the historic Apollo 11 flight and landing. What we uncover in this motion picture is more about Armstrong himself — including family, close friends, and colleagues as well as a series of fateful events that led to him piloting the mission.
Neil Armstrong suffered tragedy and death seemed to surround him. The film first features the death of his daughter which haunts Neil for many years after her passing. His wife Jan (Claire Foy) struggles to keep the family together and be a rock for Armstrong as he continues to work his way up through the NASA space program. However, the risks of being an astronaut come with the loss of life which Armstrong experiences throughout the years along with his wife, and the two become all too familiar with attending funerals.
First Man balances between being a docudrama about Neil’s life as an astronaut and a Discovery network narrative with impressive panoramic shots of space and the moon. The unsung hero of this film is the sound editing. The sound matches perfectly from scenes inside of the wedged compartment of the Gemini capsule to the moment when Armstrong begins his first step on the moon, indelibly placing a historical print — one that will be remembered among all nations forever.
Audiences will also learn about some of the idiosyncrasies of astronaut Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) who was with mission commander Neil Armstong on that historic flight. He’s depicted as being a bit cocky and arrogant, and it appears as if Armstrong himself was annoyed by Aldrin’s eccentricities.
The opening scene of First Man is an intense POV directly through the lens of Armstrong, in his tightly spaced capsule orbiting space. We get to experience for just a moment what he endures as the camera shakes, the motors run high and fast and the dimly lit spacecraft is preparing to take us to new heights. It is also in this moment that the sound editing does its magic in preparing us for the kind of experience we will have.
Ryan Gosling delivers a performance that I don’t necessarily will think become groundbreaking or memorable but one that will give insight about Armstrong the father and family man — as opposed to Armstrong the astronaut. We get more of a gripping performance from Stoll as the super-confident Buzz Aldrin, and during the historic mission even Aldrin himself takes it down a notch to absorb the miracle of what is happening around him and is humbled. First Man also provides perspective on what the families of astronauts have to contend with since the risk of life-threatening missions is inevitable. There is one poignant scene with Jan and Neil Armstrong as she insists to her husband that he has to be the one to tell their children he may not come back from the mission.
First Man provides an experience for the viewer that goes beyond just telling the story of Armstrong but seeing and feeling it through his perspective.
First Man opens in theaters and in IMAX on October 12.
For more of our reviews from TIFF check out the following:
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online community for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She's the primary film critic for BGN and is a member of the Critics Choice Association.