Tuesday, January 31, 2017


One of the greatest, and sadly, often forgotten chapters in American history was the massive effort undertaken to land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth. It was one of the largest instances of the entire country coming together under one goal, and it did so despite the barriers within its own borders at the time. Those barriers affected many of the unseen workers at NASA, and this is the story to be told in HIDDEN FIGURES.

Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monaie), are three African-American mathematicians and engineers at NASA in the early days of the space race, and are tasked with crunching the numbers to get America in the race, with or without the help from their managers (Kevin Costner and Kirsten Dunst) and fellow rocket scientists (Jim Parsons).

Get your ass to the moon. That is the main goal of the country during the time of HIDDEN FIGURES. The stakes are high as the clock is ticking, as NASA is desperate to at very least get a man in space; as the public perception of the new space agency is very low due to being surpassed by the Russians at every turn. The situation is an enigma at NASA; they are willing to do anything at any cost to achieve their goal, but it’s their own segregation rules and attitudes towards women in the workplace which hampers them. HIDDEN FIGURES takes great lengths to show us just how difficult it was for Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary to do their vital jobs when major things like segregated restrooms (Katherine has to walk across the entire campus to get to a colored-restroom) to little things like separate coffee pots. Katherine gets the bulk of the attention, as she is fleshed out from childhood as a mathematical genius, and it is her calculations which are sorely needed. We need you, NASA is saying, but only if you stay in your boundaries.

The grand scheme of things is the real focus of HIDDEN FIGURES, and although each of the characters get more than their share of moments to struggle and overcome, the film has a very small-screen feel to it. Exactly how the trials and stresses of the workplace, and racism and sexism affect the characters beneath the surface are never really explored, and things seem to be in a hurry to get to one plot point to the next. The characters seem unaffected, and they oddly seem to be having the time of their lives.

Director Ted Melfi still makes HIDDEN FIGURES quite the enjoyable ride. The plotting is tight, the pacing is brisk, and the moments of humor are well-timed. Music selections from the time-period are excellent, and Melfi does great work in capturing the country in the 1960’s. The visual effects, including a few space-shots, seem like an afterthought and could have been rendered better.

Acting is fine all around, despite no one in the cast getting any sort of big emotional moment to really shine. Taraji P. Henson gets the most screentime and work, and does very well with what she’s asked to to do. Kevin Costner is as gruff as he’s ever been, and is there to mostly give long speeches. Octavia Spencer is also fine, but is just sort of there...and her character turns oddly turns smug against another who is showing compassion in a bizarre scene. Jim Parsons, as a bitter and jealous engineer is the villain of the story and handles things well. Kirsten Dunst is fine, as is Mahershala Ali, who shows up as Katherine’s hopeful lover.  

Despite the small-screen feel and a need to dig deeper into the characters, HIDDEN FIGURES finishes off as a very inspirational flick; preaching unity and tolerance which makes it a fine piece to show in history and ethics classes. Audiences will find themselves rooting more for the space program than the characters who struggle to make it happen, but it’s still a very functional film with a lot to say. It’s tight and enjoyable, and does enough right to earn a recommendation.


1 comment:

  1. My wife and I both enjoyed this film very muck. And it's an eye-opener for those of us to watched the screen and shouted "Go, Go" as Shepard led us into space while most of us knew nothing about these personal struggles behind the scenes.


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