Review: Armstrong Chronicles How an Ordinary Man Made it to the Moon

Sometimes with documentaries, you just let an incredible story unfold and don’t worry too much about the bells and whistles that surround it. Or in the case of Armstrong, a telling of the inspiring life story of astronaut Neil Armstrong, the life story itself is front-loaded with bells and whistles. Obviously, a sizable portion of this movie covers the training and carrying out of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission to the moon, during which Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on the moon (I think he said something memorable when he did it, but I can’t remember what for the life of me). But thanks to an abundance of never-before-seen footage of both his personal life and the journey to space, Armstrong also takes the time to look at the its subject’s life both before and after that historic mission.

Armstrong Image courtesy of Variety

Featuring interviews with Armstrong’s first wife, his two sons and other family members, it’s clear the documentary was produced with the full cooperation (and likely approval) of those closest to him, which gives us some insight into the man who was often categorized as a recluse (when in fact, he was simply overwhelmed with the amount of media coverage he received after the moon walk). In addition, any writings by Armstrong himself are narrated by Harrison Ford, adding a great deal of gravitas to this story that goes from a simple childhood in Ohio to the Gemini 8 and Apollo 11 missions, landing him back in Ohio to live out his days with his second wife and a protective grip on his legacy.

From director David Fairhead, this special presentation coincides with the 50th anniversary of the moon landings, and it gives us an account of Armstrong’s life that's about as streamlined and frills-free as I’m sure the astronaut would have wanted it. Accounts from fellow astronauts and other NASA co-workers, as well as personal friends, help round out the film and paint a picture of a genuinely nice fellow who just wanted to complete the job that was given to him, whether it landed him in the history books or not. As someone in the film says, "Thank god social media didn’t exist at the time,” or he never would have survived the scrutiny when he stepped away from the public eye.

Armstrong is a worthy biography and a solid way to mark the anniversary.

The film opens today for a weeklong run at Facets Cinémathèque.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.