Hidden Figures (2016) – Film Review

Based on the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, the film adaptation of: ‘Hidden Figures’ serves as compelling and entertaining delve into the past as it tells the true story of the mostly unknown women who helped push-forward the space program. Through its brilliant performances from Taraji P. Henson and Kevin Costner (among the rest of the cast) alongside its magnificent writing, the film manages to keep its audience constantly invested in spite of its occasionally bland filmmaking.

Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, three brilliant African-American women working at NASA in the 1960s cross all gender and race barriers within their workplace to follow their dreams and inspire generations, serving as the brain-force to help send astronaut John Glenn into Earth’s orbit.

Despite focusing on three separate stories of three separate characters, ‘Hidden Figures’ never feels unfocused, as each of the three protagonists receive a decent amount of development as well as at least one or more memorable scenes between them. As the film displays its main theme of female and black empowerment proudly, without ever becoming overly cliché as it avoids many of the over-done tropes that other films built-around the racist barriers of the 60s can begin to rely-on. For example, the film’s opening scene in which the trio of women are confronted by a white police officer, as this moment could’ve easily felt like overly-familiar ground should it have been handled-poorly, yet aside from some inappropriate stereotyping at first, the scene actually results in the three of them heading to NASA without any horrific racial ridiculing.

The three protagonists portrayed by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe are all excellent throughout the film, as each of them remain determined and outgoing despite the world’s many attempts to drag them down, always fighting against the unfair judgement of them simply for the way they look, repeatedly with a lack of preachy dialogue. Alongside them, the supporting cast of Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kristen Dunst and Mahershala Ali are all great even if some of their characters are a little under-utilised within the narrative. One of the reasons the performances within the film are as accurate as they are is due to some of the cast actually having the opportunity to meet with the story’s icons before production began. Most notably Taraji P. Henson, who met with the real Katherine Johnson (who was ninety-eight-years-old at the time) after she signed-on for the role.

The cinematography by Mandy Walker is serviceable overall, as while the film features a good number of attractive shots, they are dragged-down by its many mundane ones. However, ‘Hidden Figures’ does actually make effective yet subtle use of colour throughout its runtime. As the film’s colour palette constantly reflects the mood within each scene, with the many of the sets at NASA where calculations and preparations take-place utilising mostly sterile whites, greys, and silvers, which creates a sharp contrast to the warm/inviting colours of the ladies’ homes.

Hanz Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch handle the original score for the film, which is an incredibly mixed-bag overall. As whilst the film does have some decent tracks such as: ‘Katherine’, ‘Mission Control’ and ‘Hidden Figures’, the soundtrack also features a number of pop-songs by Pharrell Willaims, which don’t remotely fit the tone of the film or the story’s time-period. Usually resulting in it feeling very forced and sometimes even takes-away from the film’s dramatic moments. This is most likely a result of Pharrell Willaims overseeing all aspects of the film’s soundtrack, which I personally feel is a huge misstep as his style of music really isn’t suited for a drama.

In addition to portraying the female heroes of the real-life story as accurately as possible, the film also makes substantial use of its time-period. As to keep the viewer up-to-date with what knowledge that the American public had at the time, ‘Hidden Figures’ occasionally cuts-away to stock footage of rocket testings or president John F. Kennedy making public announcements, both which are surprisingly effective despite not being used continuously. Personally however, I still would’ve preferred a bigger presence of songs from the 1960s rather than the constant barrage of pop-songs the film contains, as mentioned previously.

In conclusion, I feel ‘Hidden Figures’ is an important film many should experience. As whilst there has been an array of films based around the misogynistic/racist nature of the 1950s/1960s, ‘Hidden Figures’ is for sure a stand-out through its engaging and thought-provoking narrative. Although films like ‘Do the Right Thing’ and ‘BlacKkKlansman’ may be slightly more powerful with their message(s), I feel ‘Hidden Figures’ is fairly underrated when it comes to historical dramas, as the film is simultaneously both informing and touching. Overall, a high 7/10.

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