As we approach the 50th anniversary of the first steps on the surface of the moon, David Fairhead’s documentary Armstrong provides a touching eulogy of the man who must have felt the impact of that scientific and political advancement most keenly. The film places Neil Armstrong’s life in the context of a global narrative, hinting at the broader ramifications of his career without delving too deeply into the powers at play around him. Meanwhile, a combination of archive footage and recent interviews with close friends, family and ex-colleagues develops an impression of Armstrong at home, as well as in flight.
Harrison Ford voices choice excerpts of the astronaut’s own words, corroborating and expanding a – broadly speaking – well-rounded and multi-vocal account. Armstrong’s family are given space to recall their own experiences of the epoch-defining space programme, acknowledging the significant tensions that bled into their personal lives but leaving the viewer with an impression of their deep respect for Armstrong’s commitment to his work. Similarly, the contributions of fellow astronauts, engineers and aviators help to construct an image of a committed professional and a highly skilled pilot who tried hard to consolidate all of the roles into which he had been cast.
Nonetheless, there are aspects of the broader picture that deserve a closer focus than this film provides. The political pressures that drove NASA to architect the Apollo 11 mission are tied into an ostensibly determined historical arc without recognition of the further consequences of – for example – the success of Sputnik 1. While some of the lives lost in the technological journey to the moon landing are acknowledged, they can be given pause only briefly before the necessary refocus on Armstrong tends to subsume them into something of a hero narrative. Armstrong does succeed, however, in emphasising how far luck, chance and other people’s choices determined the trajectory of Neil Armstrong’s career, recognising the credit due to the man for his careful handling of conflicting demands and leaving the viewer with a suggestion of how far the historical reverberations of the slightest misstep can travel.
Armstrong is released in select cinemas and on demand on 12th July 2019.
Watch the trailer for Armstrong here: