This is an advance review out of the Toronto International Film Festival.
First Man works so well is because it chooses to focus on an intimate story about what it takes to achieve greatness. And what better filmmaker to explore that idea than Damien Chazelle, a director who has made a career out of stories about the sacrifices we make for our dreams. Chazelle (La La Land, Whiplash) accomplishes that once again here while also delivering a visually stunning film.
The film starts with an eye-popping opening scene in which astronaut Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), as a test pilot in 1961, rides an X-15 into the clouds, to the point where mission control tells him he will bounce off the atmosphere. Cinematographer Linus Sandgren, who also shot La La Land, puts us inside the cockpit for a claustrophobic and impossibly shot sequence that is so immersive you may be forgiven for feeling dizzy and disoriented. The sound design and score help, as we feel every loose screw, every turn of the engines, and Justin Hurwitz’s score resembles a ticking clock, guaranteed to increase your heart rate.