Director: Theodore Melfi
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Glen Powell, Mahershala Ali
Run Time: 127 mins
‘Hidden Figures’ is a biopic detailing the untold stories of three inspirational African-American women who served a vital role in NASA during the early space programs. At the beginning of the film, they are working in a segregated environment where their full talents are being under-utilised despite all being clearly very intelligent. The film details their work for NASA and their plight into getting their desired role in helping the early space missions. The film is directed by Theodore Melfi who directed ‘St Vincent’, a 2014 comedy with Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy which received positive reviews. The film boasts an impressive cast comprised of Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe as the titular figures and the cast is rounded out by Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons and Mahershala Ali to name a few so the performances should be very strong. ‘Hidden Figures’ has received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer and Adapted Screenplay and although it ultimately didn’t win anything, many anticipated it as a dark horse in the Oscar race.
‘Hidden Figures’ is an extremely easy film to like and barely puts a foot wrong; I was utterly charmed by it the whole way through. It is competently directed by Melfi and has just the right blend of comedy and factual drama in it to prevent it from being too laborious or too comedic. Not only are the performances are great in this film, but the characters are all really well-developed and the screenplay by Melfi and Allison Schroeder is wonderfully written. What stops this film from being perfect is it is fairly conventional in parts and there are a couple of story arcs that are a little underwritten. But these are very small nitpicks in an otherwise near-perfect film.
I really admire the respect that Melfi seems to have for these characters and it’s refreshing to not only see a film that is not only led by women, but women of colour. It sets itself very confidently in time, establishing a well-developed context which helps the audience to further empathise with the film’s characters and their struggle in a racially segregated society. The film manages to earn a lot of its moments that it tries to go for in sympathising with the characters and although I wasn’t aware of anything to do with this true story before seeing the film, I was fascinated with the narrative it portrays, a story of these hidden figures.
The performances of the entire cast in this film are round-the-board very likeable. Taraji P. Henson is very respectful and faithful as Katherine Goble Johnson, a mathematician who becomes the first African-American working in the Space Task Group. Octavia Spencer, who has received an Oscar nomination for her performance as Dorothy Vaughan is wonderful and is equally comedic yet all-knowing, who works the job of a Supervisor without being credited for it. Janelle Monáe plays Mary Jackson who aspires to be an engineer and I’ve been really impressed with Monáe who manages to give a second fantastic performance after her wonderful turn in ‘Moonlight’. The rest of the cast are all very strong too and it’s great to see Jim Parsons in a serious role who proves he isn’t just limited to comedic roles. What propels these performances is the wonderful character development in the script and I really felt and understand for most of these characters by the end of the film. The only exception is Mahershala Ali as Jim Johnson, a military officer who romances with Henson’s character. Ali’s performance is great, as to be expected, but I thought the role was quite underwritten and a bit po-faced and there is a moment late in the film that I don’t think the film manages to earn.
The score which is scored by Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams and Benjamin Wallfisch is subtle and fits into the film well whilst being fairly memorable at the same time. The cinematography by Mandy Walker is competent and economical and the film is very well-edited by Peter Teschner.
Overall, ‘Hidden Figures’ is one of the stronger entries in the crop of Best Picture nominees for this year. It is a timely and important film and has just the right amount of respect for these individuals without overdoing it and feeling like a history lesson. It deserves all the Awards attention that it has received – Melfi has done a very good job in pacing this film perfectly and a strong, cine-literate script manages to bring out some excellent performances in the well-developed characters played by the cast. I really liked it and the film was completely gripping in its opening moments and never lost me throughout its entire run time.