REVIEW: First Man (12a), (141 mins) Chichester Cineworld
The story of the first man on the moon, First Man needed to be truly epic – and is. It is a film with ambitions, in a way, as big as the epic adventure it seeks to capture. It succeeds because it strikes all the right notes, offering a monumental recreation of something truly monumental.
First Man taps into the danger and the controversy, giving us the deaths along the way and the outcry at what many perceived to be a wicked waste of money. It also gives us the desperate driving need finally to pull one over on the Soviets in a race the Americans were losing; and it also conjures a sense of wonder which goes beyond patriotic jostling, something Kennedy captured in his famous speech which is recalled once the race has been won.
Just as interestingly, the film gives us a superb look at the 60s, the fashions, the interiors, the fact that nearly everything happens through clouds of cigarette smoke.
It also leaves you wondering how on earth they managed to get up there with rockets, dials, gauges and equipment all looking so thoroughly antediluvian.
But where the film really scores is in its depiction of that First Man himself, the late, great Neil Armstrong beautifully portrayed here by Ryan Gosling, an actor who shows us increasingly with every film role he plays just what a fascinating, gifted actor he is.
Here he gives us an Armstrong who is quietly driven. But if he wants to travel out of this world, it’s perhaps less to do with an astronaut’s curiosity than a father’s grief for the daughter he lost – a grief which makes it difficult for him to speak to his wife and almost impossible to speak to his sons. Gosling is an actor capable of conveying so much through so little. His is a mesmerising performance in a film which demands patience, a film which grows slowly as it searches for something epic and most definitely finds it.
First Man is directed by Damien Chazelle who directed Gosling in the vastly-different La La Land – clearly a director who knows how to get the absolute best out of him.
Very impressive too is Claire Foy as Armstrong’s wife, a woman who knows she has to keep both feet on the ground for everyone’s sake, in full knowledge of the danger her husband is running.