Review: “Hidden Figures” Has the Power to Inspire the Next NASA Scientists
“Hidden Figures” about the African-American women of NASA seemed to come out of nowhere partially thanks to its nondescript title.
However, when the trailers began to hit they struck a chord with viewers very quickly. My little sister even fan-girled out a bit when the trailer came on before seeing “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” Speaking for myself, I was interested as I actually have family who worked at NASA then and now. Also, as a native of Hampton it was really interesting hearing my town be mentioned constantly in a mainstream film at my local theater. Still how does the film itself shape up? Short version: very well. Long version…
Cinematics (Plot, Acting, Cinematography, etc.) – 4.5
As I’ve stated before a sign of a good based on a true story film should be that it makes you want to learn more about it after watching the film. I can say this certainly did it for me. This is just a really well-made film all around. The plot has a lot of events to showcase, but does an excellent job at condensing it in a way to make people understand it even if they aren’t already familiar with NASA history.
The acting is one of the film’s best features as they hired some incredibly talented actresses and actors for the roles. For our lead we have Taraji Henson as Katherine. Even though the film is advertised as the story of three women, she is the true main character. Playing geniuses can be a challenge. You have a ton of jargon to memorize and sound like you not only understand, but you’re coming up with it. However, she pulls it off nicely and feels totally natural all the way through. Octavia Spencer is fantastic as always. So much so it feels silly to even bother mentioning it. Because seriously you knew she was going to be. We also have Janelle Monáe for the last of the trio who from what I read is a singer. But she does so well in the film I wouldn’t have assumed she wasn’t primarily an actress otherwise. We also have Kevin Costner as Al Harrison who according to my research wasn’t a real person. I assume then he’s a composite character which is a little disappointing as it makes one of the best moments feel a little hokey in retrospect. I know it’s fashionable to call Costner bland and boring, but I’ve always liked him in movies. He actually feels the most like someone stepped out of that time period. There are more actors, but you get the idea. They’re all really good in here. To end I’ll say this, John Glenn is about to become everyone’s favorite astronaut again.
Our director is the same from “St Vincent,” Theodore Melfi. After these first two films he is definitely someone to watch going forward. While the cinematography is nothing to set your world on fire it has some very effective moments for storytelling. There is a great shot near the end of a door being slammed shut in one of the character’s faces. In a simple visual way it says almost everything about how these people were treated back then. They do such a good job at showing the indignities that it makes me want to time travel and slap some NASA people upside the head. I think the best part is a section depicting the bathroom situation for Katherine. She is added to the main offices as she’s one of the best computers (it’s what they were called back then) in all of NASA, but has to eventually go to the bathroom. A task that should not be any harder than going down the hallway. However, the problem is that the only bathrooms in that building are white only. So, she has to run a half a mile across Langley to get to her old office to use the colored restrooms. When she finally breaks down it is one of the best moments of acting from Henson. It’s the kind of thing we take for granted now and most movies wouldn’t bother addressing. But by shining a light on this basic human need, it makes the message ring all the more true and necessary. The score is very good though odd as sometimes it feels more modern than it should. However, somehow it all ends up working.
Entertainment Value – 4
I’ll tell you what worried me from the trailers. It was giving me a bit of a “Red Tails” vibe. Now I haven’t actually seen “Red Tails” however the impression I got from all of the trailers is that the film itself was very much aware of how important it and its subject matter is. Like the actors are all trying to show the weight and gravity of the events in history. I understand how that can happen without thinking. Still, it’s a problem as films need to be films first not just a future history teacher’s tool. Luckily as I went over in the previous section the actors makes this feel so natural and the film does such a good job at making you feel like you’re there. My only complaint would be that the personal life story between Katherine Goble and her eventual husband Jim Johnson played by Mahershala Ali isn’t very interesting. It’s not bad and like on “Luke Cage” and even his small roles like in “The Hunger Games,” Ali brings a lot to this character that doesn’t have a lot to work with. Despite that there were a number of times the film was developing their love story that I couldn’t help but feel “hey go back to the math stuff!” Which is something 10 year old me would be gobsmacked that I’d be saying. Still, this film made me want to know the math even though the equations and principles (like Go/No Go) might as well have been Greek to me and that’s quite an accomplishment.
Rewatchability – 3.5
I can’t say that I’ll be itching to get this on video when it hits. However, I am certain that I’ll want to see it again at some point. If I got it for a present I’d gladly keep it in my collection.
- Entertainment Value
"Hidden Figures" is a powerful film about a powerful (and sadly still relevant) subject matter. From the directing to the acting the film really makes you feel all the highs and lows of what happened. It never gets too heavy that it becomes too hard to watch and also never becomes too silly while having many excellent moments of comedy throughout. I give it 4 stars out of 5.
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