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Review: 'Armstrong' examines the man behind the moon landing

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

With the 50th anniversary of man's first steps on the moon just days away, movies dealing with the event have been thick on the land for awhile. But even if you think you've seen enough, "Armstrong" is worth your time.

It's not that the other theatrical films, which include last year's Ryan Gosling-starring "First Man" and the more recent, visually arresting documentary "Apollo 11," have been lacking in quality.

Rather it's that this latest doc, directed by David Fairhead, does something those others don't. It enables audiences to get a sense of what the real Neil Armstrong was like, to get to know, as much as it's possible, this often unknowable individual.

To do so the filmmakers have gotten the cooperation of the people who were closest to him: his sister June, his sons Mark and Rick, and his first wife, Janet, who died last year at age 84.

Not that Armstrong himself was verbally demonstrative, far from it. "He was not the most verbose person you ever met," says son Mark, with Janet pithily adding, thinking back, "he didn't like to talk about much and he never did talk about much."

So even though the filmmakers have enlisted Harrison Ford, something of a pilot himself, to provide a voice-over reading of Armstrong's words, it's the thoughts of others as well as his actions that reveal the man most.

 

Often looking both ordinary and uncomfortable in interviews, Armstrong seemed to absorb his four-square, work hard and keep your nose clean character from his surroundings growing up in tiny Wapakoneta, Ohio.

In fact, his happiest and most animated moment in "Armstrong" is when he returns to his birthplace to be honored after his success on the moon. "You are my people," he says, beaming, "and I'm proud to be one of you."

Starting as a child delighted to get a 20-cent model airplane, Armstrong always had flying on his mind, to the point of getting his pilot's license before he got his driver's license.

One of the things that set Armstrong apart as a pilot even as early as his stint flying in the Korean War was an almost preternatural unflappability, a coolness under pressure that became legendary.

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