Director: Theodore Melfi
Screenplay: Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons
Runtime: 127 Minutes
Hidden Figures is a sturdy, well-built film about the genuinely important story of the African-American mathematicians at NASA, who overcame adversity and expectation in an increasingly hostile decade and helped to launch the first US voyages into space. It focuses on figures and events of extraordinary achievement, arriving in quite timely fashion given the current climate of the country today, even if the picture itself isn’t anything all that exceptional.
It depicts a heavily fictionalised version of the facts for dramatic purposes, such as specific events of the characters lives altered to coincide with the shorter timeline. The main engineered difference being that there was, in fact, no active segregation in NASA by the time in which the film was set, but it plays into the films more obviously manufactured antagonism under the dramatic circumstance. The screenplay is a mix of distilled theatrics and scientific practice in motion (A mix of dumbed-down dialogues and technical jargon) and a little too packed with ripe inspirational waffle and elongated sequences of setup to stand out – though there are occasionally decent lines and moments of delight that are every so often moving
The performances from Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe as Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson are brilliant, confident versions of their real-life counterparts – each with identifiable traits and motivations that keep them as individuals. While there are respectable supporting roles from a gum-chewing Kevin Costner, a subdued Kirsten Dunst, a stiff Jim Parsons and a devilishly handsome Mahershala Ali, who is proving to be a continuously reliable screen presence of character shorthand.
Theodore Melfi’s direction offers a step up from his ground-level indie drama of St. Vincent, and he makes the most out of a pretty small production of a televisual scale with Mandy Walker’s cinematography of vivid and pleasant colours. But, like Hans Zimmer’s rather ordinary and characterless score and anachronistic inclusions, the film does little more to exercise its power as a piece of cinema, and maybe some more creativity in vision might have left a bigger impression.
As it stands, Hidden Figures take on the story might not be wholly original, but it’s efficiently told. If you take the drama and fiction in hand for what it is then the film really does work, and its worthy story is one that gets better as it goes on.