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TIFF Review: First Man

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Grieving the loss of his daughter, Neil Armstrong pursues his ambition of becoming an astronaut.

As Neil Armstrong gets a brief glimpse of the outer atmosphere of Earth, flashbacks show the emotionally wrenching loss of his two-year-old daughter.  There is a methodical quietness to Armstrong which serves as an emotional cocoon that makes him reserved but also direct and formal in his responses.  The high-risk profession of becoming an astronaut has made death the cost of doing business; however, that does not lessen the pain as the body count grows.  Serving as his equal partner in life is Janet Armstrong who is the bedrock of the family.

Having the death of Karen Armstrong loom over the narrative helps to personalize her father.  Ryan Gosling is able to convey Neil Armstrong as an extremely logical, competent, and emotionally wounded soul who protects himself with formalities.  In most cases, Claire Foy would have the thankless task of the being nagging wife but the scene where she demands that her husband speaks to their sons before embarking on the moon landing mission is emotionally powerful.  Kyle Chandler, as usual, is solid in a supporting role.

The capsule scenes are dramatic as the perspective remains entirely with the astronauts which adds to the disorientation and suspense as things go wrong.  The moon landing is well-executed and places the audience right in the middle of the action.  The cinematography makes use of different footage formats and a moving frame to heighten the documentary style which is grounded in the era of the 1960s.  The final scene relies on physical gestures rather than words which enhances the bond between husband and wife.  It certainly appears that filmmaker Damien Chazelle has the ability to go beyond the music genre and explore different types of storytelling.

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Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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