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Hidden Figures Review

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An overlooked chapter in America's space history.

The five words, ‘Based on a true story’ can be a blessing or a curse for a

movie - for every Sully, there’s a World Trade Center. Hidden Figures throws light on a vital part of social and space history, something that the majority of the population won’t have any idea about. That’s a crying shame, not just because it’s an injustice to all involved but also because it’s a big piece of the jigsaw.

Hidden Figures tells the story of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson who are three brilliant African-American women that worked at NASA and were the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit. Together they crossed a number of significant boundaries, including gender and race lines but it’s something that isn’t talked about enough, and certainly not loudly enough, for people to hear.

Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe play Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson respectively with a frank and touching authenticity that avoids the temptation to overplay any element of their characters, ensuring they don’t become caricatures, and never giving in to the temptation to play clichés. All three are excellent in different ways, delivering stunning performances that will impress and engage. Sure, there are moments that are a touch Hollywood rather than this being a borderline biopic, perhaps even twee, but they feel sassy and nuanced rather than jarring and synthetic.

There are, and the film and the people behind it are honest and upfront about them, elements of Hidden Figures that have been tweaked to make this work as a film. However, those in no way detract from the sincerity or credibility of the film as a talking point and a hugely enjoyable piece of cinema. A prime example of this is Al Harrison, Kevin Costner’s character, who is the combination of three different people. Costner gives it all something rich, a uniqueness that makes you realize that he’s doing this movie, this role, because he wants to and not because he has too..

This is a drama, based on a true story, not an exact reconstruction of specific events. This is a Hollywood studio film that is meant to educate, enlighten and entertain. Hidden Figures does all three in abundance. The real stars of the film are Henson, Spencer, and Monáe who all deserve recognition for excellent performances that show breadth and depth and humanity and humility as well as grace and gravitas – they turn in some of the most effortlessly watchable performances of the year and deliver exactly what is called for, and then some.

They are supported by a cast who all also give excellent performances, regardless of how small they are, including Kirsten Dunst as the boss of the barrier-smashing trio, Jim Parsons as Paul Stafford – who is a delight as a man with a chip on his shoulder and an aversion to change, the always brilliant and deservedly Hollywood-hot Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge as Levi Jackson and Glen Powell as space legend John Glenn. There is not one person on screen that doesn’t cut through and deliver something that is in some way affecting, dramatically or through gentle humor.

A key character in the film that you never see is the score and soundtrack, delicate and precise and, while it won’t go down as a classic, is perfect thanks to Hans Zimmer’s handiwork and Pharell Williams’ '60’s-inspired infusion. Sure, at times there is a touch too much sugar, only the slightest touch, but it is never to the detriment of the movie as a whole. Hidden Figures is a movie that is easy to consume, engaging, intelligent and really deserves to be seen.

The Verdict

Hidden Figures fills in an all too forgotten, or simply too widely unknown, blank in US history in a classy, engaging, entertaining and hugely fulfilling way. Superb performances across the board and a fascinating story alone make Hidden Figures a solid, an accomplished and deftly executed movie that entertains, engages and earns your time, money and attention.

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