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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Hacksaw Ridge (2016) – Film Review

Serving as both an intense war film as well as the real-life biography of Desmon T. Dos, ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is a respected Oscar-nominated film which deserves much of the praise it receives. As through the stand-out performance by Andrew Garfield alongside the attractive cinematography by Simon Duggan and array of tense moments, ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ soon becomes a very emotional and memorable experience for any viewer, whether overly familiar with the war genre or not.

Based on the real-life story of World War II American Army Medic Desmon T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa and refused to kill anyone despite push-back from his superiors. Doss soon became the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a single shot on the battlefield.

Directed by Mel Gibson (Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto). ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is most effective when displaying war at it’s most brutal, never turning away from displaying the graphic violence and horrific destruction World War II inflicted on many people’s lives, and while the film can sometimes go a little too far when it comes to its gore (feeling a little tasteless and over-the-top at points). I did find ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ more engaging than many similar films within the war genre, and the grim atmosphere the film presents is sure to keep any audience member constantly on the edge-of-their-seat.

The main cast of Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths and Luke Bracey are all phenomenal, with Andrew Garfield in particular, giving a fantastic performance as Desmon T. Dos. Never failing to portray him as a likeable and brave man thrown-into the dark world of war, despite a huge amount of scenes being left on the cutting-room floor as a result of time, which I feel is a shame, as the film isn’t overly long and could’ve benefitted from a few more moments of characterisation. However, ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ also features some extremely peculiar choices when it comes to the supporting cast, as Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington both portray strict war-camp generals early-on in the story, which in spite of them both giving fairly decent performances within their roles, I couldn’t help but feel their characters could’ve been better cast.

Although the cinematography by Simon Duggan isn’t anything overly incredible throughout the runtime, the film does have a number of visually pleasing shots, in addition to the film utilizing an array of hand-held shots to further the film’s presentation of the uncontrollable chaos of war. Unfortunately, despite not being used very heavily throughout the film, the shots involving CGI that we do see could definitely do with some improvement. As the CGI effects for the film’s enormous battleships and fiery explosions do look a little unusual when compared to the film’s time-period accurate battlefront.

The original score by Rupert Gregson-Williams is one of the stronger elements of the film however, as the soundtrack helps to build tension throughout the story in addition to being surprisingly memorable. Although in my opinion, I always felt the score never quite managed to build tension as well as the score for: ‘Dunkirk’, or had the huge emotional impact as the original score from one of the definitive war films: ‘Saving Private Ryan’, which stopped the soundtrack from reaching the heights it truly could. That being said, the late James Horner was initially attached to the film after being the composer for much of Gibson’s other work. But after Horner’s untimely death, another composer was brought-on before Rupert Gregson-Williams was eventually finalized-on, so the film’s soundtrack has been through a very rough-road of development.

One area of the film I feel is fairly underappreciated is the make-up and costume design, as every-horrific injury seen throughout the film always appears realistic and looks extremely painful, whilst every-costume also feels very accurate to the film’s time-period, almost making the film appear as if the production actually took-place during World War II itself. These elements also help make-up for some of the weak writing early-on in the film. As whilst the film’s writing isn’t awful by any means, a large amount of the dialogue could be seen as a little cheesy/cliché when it comes to developing the film’s characters.

‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is one of those rare films that is both entertaining and distressing, whilst it isn’t quite perfect in its execution, mostly due to its few small issues in regards to its writing, excessive violence and supporting cast. I still feel all of these problems are mostly minor when compared to the remainder of the film. As ‘Hacksaw Ridge’s brilliant war-torn visuals and tense atmosphere on-top of the memorable and charismatic performance by Andrew Garfield, leave ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ a film I feel many should see at least once, and is a solid 8/10 overall.

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