The National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the space race of decades past has many inspiring stories of brilliant people, so it’s always a treat when Hollywood visits the subject.
“Hidden Figures” is another such feature. The picture tells the story of Katherine Johnson (Taraji Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), three women who worked at NASA in the early 1960s in a unit dedicated to all the math for the agency.
Because their work was all about calculations, they were even called computers at the time. As their skills are called upon, though, Katherine is brought into a special task force for NASA’s latest mission, Mary is brought into an engineering unit and Dorothy, meanwhile, works to advance her role as the supervisor of her group. While this is happening, the three women have to face discrimination while also dealing with immense pressure as their work is key to bringing astronauts home safely.
When it comes to recreating the look of the 60s, the tech at NASA and more importantly, the atmosphere and pressure of the work they were doing, “Hidden Figures” was on point. The production design is solid, creating an immersive experience where an audience can really feel like they’re at NASA.
Additionally, scenes where these women are doing work integral to the success of the space program, such as solving giant equations, are well paced and portrayed in a way that is deeply interesting, making these moments both engaging and inspiring. Sequences displaying the hardships these characters had to go through were also emotional and helps an audience root for them that much more.
Unfortunately, while there are compelling scenes in the flick, the movie does ‘play it safe’ in a sense, going by the books a little too much. There’s just a bit too much predictability at points, especially at the more emotional beats.
These especially come through during a rather unnecessary subplot about a romance featured as well as during a few of the attempts at humor.
While this flaw does cast a shadow over the picture, preventing it from being one of 2016’s best, there was still some great acting put on screen that brightened the movie.
The three lead actresses, for example, were all fantastic. They were all very convincing in their parts, especially during the scenes at NASA. In these sequences the audience is really able to see their passion for the work they’re doing.
Of the trio, Henson really stood out, especially in a scene where she demands better treatment while working with the task force.
Another actor giving a great performance was Kevin Costner, who portrayed NASA Official Al Harrison. Harrison is a no-nonsense type of leader who cares about his staff but also deeply values the mission and wants it accomplished as best as possible. These aspects are all wonderfully portrayed by Costner, whose deadpan delivery and expressions show a man who wants the job done and done right.
Unfortunately, the film featured some generic performances too, mainly those from Jim Parsons and Kirsten Dunst. Parsons is Katherine’s colleague while Dunst plays a NASA supervisor and both are just simple backwards characters who represent the sexist and racist tendencies of the time. Outside of this they had very little character. On top of that, further research shows that these two characters weren’t even based on real people.
“Hidden Figures” is a well crafted, feel-good picture and there are some engaging moments, yet it’s still too predictable at times and some of the subplots that don’t take place at NASA could’ve been cut. 3.5 out of 5.