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This Neil Armstrong documentary feels like unrequired viewing coming so soon after two cracking moon landing movies: Damien Chazelle’s First Man, a character study correcting the myth of Armstrong as a surly recluse, and Apollo 11, the thrilling documentary made with colour footage of the mission found at the back of a filing cabinet at Nasa. By contrast with the latter film, Armstrong looks made for TV, filled with good ol’ boys from Nasa – elderly white men every one of them, who you suspect are still pining for the days of American life when men were men and women waited by the phone in headscarves.
Armstrong was an Ohio farm boy who grew up obsessed with airplanes and got his pilot’s licence before he could drive. He flew fighter planes in the Korean war; it gave him character and backbone, he said. It also acquainted him with death. As a civilian test pilot and later on Project Apollo, he risked his life and lost colleagues. Tragically, his daughter Karen died from a brain tumour, aged two. The film features upsetting home movie footage of Karen at home, her balance impaired, desperately unwell. Watching it, you realise how Chazelle prettified her illness in First Man.
It was Armstrong’s coolness of temperament, his unflappability, that gave him the advantage over the 30 men vying to lead Apollo 11. He was a straight arrow. On the moon, after making that legendary speech, he got down to the job of gathering samples: “We weren’t there to meditate. We were there to work.” His words are narrated here by Harrison Ford, all gravel on velvet – a smart move because poetic Armstrong was not. Interviews with his sons Rick and Mark are sensitively done; they admit that their dad wasn’t around much: “Mum was our unsung hero.” Janet Armstrong, interviewed before her death, is a formidable presence.
• Armstrong is released in the UK and the US on 12 July.
Source: The Guardian
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