Armstrong review

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The new documentary about Neil Armstrong is well worth seeking out – here’s our review.

Certificate: PG
Director: David Fairhead
Cast: Harrison Ford, Neil Armstrong, Janet Armstrong
Release date: Out now
Reviewer: Anna Wilczek

As the 50th anniversary of the moon landing approaches on 20th July, audiences are being treated to not one, but two, films about the iconic culmination of the space race with the release of Armstrong and Apollo 11. Unlike Apollo 11, which is more concerned with the mission itself, Armstrong is very much a character study of the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong. Using the appropriately world-weary and grizzled voice of Harrison Ford, the film charts the life and career of Armstrong through the use of stock footage, home video, photography, talking heads, training videos and previously released material, including the visually stunning For All Mankind.

While it goes without saying that the human feat was unparalleled, one of the most astonishing elements is just how much a man of Armstrong’s age was able to achieve before he reached 40. Shown to be a serious, sincere and measured individual whose love for flying – be that his aspirations to become an aeroplane designer, or his dedication to the space programme – took priority over everything else in his life, including his marriage. At one point, a comparison is made between his purpose and that of salmon swimming upstream – this was something that he was simply born to do.

This is a film that can go from exhilarating to heartbreaking in mere minutes. Scenes showing the pure, unbridled joy associated with the main event itself – the public watching the launch from boats and atop of cars in what could be mistaken for a giant summer party, and the team at N.A.S.A.’s reaction to the mission’s success – are juxtaposed with intimate moments from Armstrong’s family life – his childhood nickname, his son’s memories of early years living in the desert, and the genuinely devastating home video footage of the final family Christmas he had with his young daughter.

Unsurprisingly, there are many similar beats between this and First Man, providing the perfect companion piece to Chazelle’s Oscar-winning drama, and re-enforcing the understated strength of Ryan Gosling’s portrayal. One can’t help but think that, had the Academy voters had more visual context, Gosling would have been in the running for ‘Best Actor’.

Armstrong demonstrates, above all else, that this was a very ordinary man who did something truly extraordinary in what is a beautifully reflective – and often touching – piece of nostalgia, interspersed with moments of wry humour. Do stay for the credits.

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