We all know the story, or at least some of the story, of the space race. America versus Russia to be the first nation to enter outer space, orbit the earth and land on the moon. However, other than the names of the now world famous astronauts it would be fair to say that not many audiences will know all that much about many of the other hard workers on the ground at NASA who made much of this possible. ‘Hidden Figures’ tells the story of three of these individuals; Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn & Mary Jackson.
With its clever dual meaning title, ‘Hidden Figures’ tells an interesting and important story which I didn’t even know I wanted to be told. With space dramas the story is so often about rescuing a character or getting them back from space however here the film’s focus is on the account of how NASA got the first American up into space and to orbit the earth. As you can imagine this feat required the intellect of many great brains to deal with the complicated mathematics and engineering necessary and at times I have to admit that this element does weigh the film down. Whilst this subject matter is stimulating to a point I couldn’t say it was done quite as well as say the breakdown of language in last years ‘Arrival’. Nonetheless, the film is broken up with elements of personal drama to each of the main characters which helped to move the film along well. There is a romantic storyline included which initially I didn’t care for but as this progressed it came to fruition and earned it’s place as part of the narrative.
Scenes and sequences are accompanied by the sounds of Hans Zimmer & Pharrell Williams who created the score for the film with effective results, blending well with the atmosphere and tone of the film. The tone of the film was a hard one to gauge I’m sure, with serious issues such as racism & sexism to address but whilst also trying to create something lighthearted and entertaining, however I think the correct balance was achieved. The characterisation was done very well, avoiding making certain individuals more villainous for the sake of it. Some more cheesy moments do slip through but these can be forgiven thanks to the enjoyable tone that is created.
Where this film really flourishes though is in its likeable characters and performances. The three lead performances are easily the best in the film. Octavia Spencer, probably the most well known of the leading ladies, is wonderful here as mathematician Dorothy Vaughn and gives a performance which reflects a very strong willed and determined woman. Janelle Monáe, who is maybe better known for her singing, impresses here too playing engineer Mary Jackson. She adds a lot of humour to the film with her performance and you could be forgiven for thinking Monáe had starred in films all her life. The lead performance comes courtesy of Taraji P. Henson and this is the best I have ever seen her. Given the space to really become her character, Katherine Johnson, Henson is a convincing lead and a very watchable one too. The film is always at its most enjoyable when these three ladies share the screen as they have an irresistible chemistry which is present from their very first scene together. The supporting cast are also worth mentioning with good performances from Kirsten Dunst, Glen Powell & Mahershala Ali. Kevin Costner also stars and this is a refreshing change from his recent action roles, this is the type of role Costner should be pursuing at this stage in his career. One final name to mention would be Jim Parsons, of ‘The Big Bang Theory’ fame, he also plays a supporting character and whilst in isolation his performance is fine, he just can’t quite shake the persona of his well known television character.
Performance niggles and pacing issues aside ‘Hidden Figures’ is quite often a real delight. The story is one that deserves to be told and I feel richer for knowing it. The three main actresses starring in the film really do make the price of admission worth paying for and surely their performances here are testament to the real life woman they are portraying. Balancing a good tone throughout director Theodore Melfi has done well to tell such an important and packed story in such a compelling way.
Rating – 7.5/10
Question: What is your favourite space mission movie?
(Leave your answers in the comments section below!)
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