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Armstrong: A touching vignette of a life well-lived
July 8, 2019
Celebrating the 50thanniversary of the first lunar landing, is the documentary celebrating the man who took those initial steps, Neil Armstrong. An all-encompassing biography from birth to death, mostly working up to the build up to 1969 before skimming over his later life. Understandably Armstrong is generally known for one thing, so to have key moments of his life touched on tantalisingly and then embellished is a nice touch.
Using archive military footage, home videos and interviews with the most influential people in Neil’s life produces a memorial-style film, where you get impression Armstrong would be deeply humbled by someone deticating a whole film to him. His early years were spent working as a pilot in the Korean war, garnering himself the reputation of “staying calm under pressure” when under enemy fire. Acknowledged as a great pilot, he is inducted into the test programmes eventually leading him to flying the X-15.
Once at NASA, the documentary starts to detail historical context for the era. With the onslaught of the Cold War, the pressure to beat Soviet Russia pushes the space race to risky territory. We get the sense of the urgency from interviews with scientists, former astronauts (including third team member Michael Collins) as well as Neil’s first wife and his children. The familial tone is juxtaposed with the talking heads of team members who talk of teasing and laughing with Armstrong, offering us a more vivid picture and added flavour to his work life.
Eventually the toll of such a stressful and potentially deadly endeavour seeps through. His wife Janet Shearon makes no attempt to hide her feelings of resentment, even though she was still very proud was of him. Neil would be described as stoic perhaps unemotional at times, causing confusion and hurt for his wife, especially when he never discussed his work to her and the dangers he may have faced. But it all came to a head, then when their daughter died and Neil became inconsolable. His stealthy, sombre demeanour makes him out as a strong figure who wouldn’t be brought down and precisely what made him perfect to lead the Apollo 11 mission. Inadvertently it does shame Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins who found it difficult to transition back into ordinary life.
The documentary is narrated by Harrison Ford, who also reads several excerpts from Neil’s diary. Ford’s addition isn’t just ‘star-power’, his deep, clear voice adds character to the now absent figure. Neil is seen throughout the film but is barely heard. Armstrong is touching vignette of a life well-lived, coming out as an obituary rather than a drama, though much of Neil’s success was his ability to deal with tough situations.
In UK cinemas 12th July 2019.
Words by Sunny Ramgolam @Sunny Ramgolam.
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