Historical films are incredibly important to build awareness to the general public; especially when it’s about subjects that are vague even for historians. That is the case for the subject matter of Hidden Figures.
Hidden Figures tells us the story of three black women that featured prominently in the US Space Program in the 60s that launched John Glenn into space. The main character we follow is Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) who worked directly under the eye of the Space Program director Al Harrison (Kevin Costner). The other two women are an aspiring supervisor Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and an aspiring engineer Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae). The film sees how despite frequent roadblocks related to the women’s race and gender, these women managed to break through and make history.
The problem with some historical films about characters breaking barriers is that there is a very fine line between inspirational and cheesy, and the average movie tends to lean more towards the latter. Hidden Figures is helmed by director Theodore Melfi who had made St. Vincent previously and had managed to get onto the inspirational side in that film, but here he seems to be a bit more unstable; maybe because of a fear of dealing with both gender and race.
But the instability is helped somewhat by a very well researched script clearly done from an insider’s perspective of NASA (courtesy of Allison Schroeder and Melfi). The detailing of the actual ‘space race’ is surprisingly clear and established, but the other political aspects of the film is where we get a bit murky again, with over-expository dialogue and some head scratching lines whose purpose no one will be sure of.
But thankfully Melfi has brought together three fabulous actresses who go above and beyond their blandly written characters and bring forth some good comedy and aggression. I also want to single out Kevin Costner for dealing with his race-blind character, thankfully, with more subtlety than the script perhaps intended.
The film really isn’t much of a cinematic standout; it’s really the true story behind it that makes it so impactful, and amazing at how it hadn’t been recounted before. Some solid performances from the leading actors sprinkle a bit more quality in a film that otherwise would be simply average.