TIFF 2018: One Giant Leap 

click to enlarge Ryan Gosling stars in First Man. - MICHAEL LOCCISANO GETTY, FOR TIFF
  • Michael Loccisano Getty, for TIFF
  • Ryan Gosling stars in First Man.
First Man, an all-suited-up-and-ready-for-launch Oscar nominee for Best Picture, begins with a small buzz which builds and builds and builds some more into a teeth-chattering blast. Then, the screen is filled with a closeup of a jet pilot, breathing inside a helmet as if his life depended on it. Outside of his aircraft, the nose cone turns fire-engine red. The noise reaches a crescendo and then... there's absolute silence. In the reflection of the helmet we see what the pilot sees: the mysterious line where blue sky meets the blackness of space. The year is 1961 and the pilot is Neil Armstrong. That particular flight ends in a near-death experience for Armstrong, but we all know that he survived to become the most famous person in the world eight years later.

"This is a big honor, and a bigger responsibility to get this right," Toronto-native Gosling said on the red carpet minutes before First Man premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. "It's an extraordinary story of not only what he did, but what his family did."

Making the premiere that much more emotional was the surprise appearance of Mark and Eric Armstrong, the sons of Neil and Janet Armstrong (Neil died in 2012).

"When we were young, my brother Eric and I were sheltered from the risks. Our mom took care of that," said Mark. "We figured that if something went wrong, dad would figure it out and somehow get back home."

click to enlarge COURTESY TIFF
  • Courtesy TIFF
Indeed, there were a thousand ways Apollo 11 could have gone wrong. But First Man is a note-perfect and always-entertaining chronicle, directed by Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle, of how intelligence, perseverance and faith made that biggest of dreams come true.

First Man accomplishes more than simply idolizing Neil Armstrong. His wife Janet is also a steel-willed force to be reckoned with. (She's portrayed by Claire Foy of The Crown.)

"If Janet wasn't the person she was, I don't think Neil could have done what he did," said Foy at the premiere. "Hollywood needs to tell you more stories like that."

Gosling's portrayal of Neil Armstrong is fully realized: soft-spoken, flawed and emotionally scarred. You know... the stuff legends are made of.

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