Posted Nov 27 2016
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Hidden Figures - This Movie Space Rocks

Dir: Theodore Melfi

Starring Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons

From the first few seconds of it's screen time, with an open road, a stalled car and Hans Zimmer’s tinkly score, you know exactly the type of movie this is planning to be. It’s a heartfelt, based on true events flick about overcoming the odds. Add in Kevin Costner – not coaching sports but scientists this time – and you really know the territory you’re in.

But in the hands of St Vincent director Theodore Melfi and his fine trio of lead actresses, none of that is a problem. It’s merely the form they choose to work in. And Hidden Figures turns out to be an utter delight.

Henson, Spencer and Monae play three black women who worked in the early days of the NASA space programme, at a time when women – let alone women of colour – could barely get a foot in the door. Their achievements as depicted here are truly remarkable, not just for their own abilities but for the times and attitudes that fought to stifle them. So essentially you have the macrocosm of America’s determination to out do Russia in the Space Race, matched with the microcosm of American Civil Rights in general. It’s a hell of a potent mix.

And cast to perfection. Spencer takes the powerful back seat, Monae is utterly delightful, and Henson more or less owns the whole damn thing. One of the nice things about Melfi’s movie is how well defined – and singularly defined - all the characters are, not just its three crucial ladies. There’s also Costner, or as we continually like to think of him – The Last American Hero. Nobody, nobody carries the weight of his whole country on his back on screen as well as our Kevin. He’s made a career of it – but he does it so well. In an age of diminishing movies stars – there’s him and there’s Hanks, and we should be grateful for both of them.

Monae and Costner have a real shot at supporting noms, and Henson deserves to be going for the big one, but the film’s overt old-fashioned emotionality might well be the thing that holds back its trajectory.

Hidden Figures in a movie awash with sentimentality, schmaltzy as all hell, powerful beyond that and extremely confident in its bid for “feel-good movie of the year” (which is wins, by the way.) But it knows full well what it is. And delivers it with efficiency and aplomb. And we loved every minute of it.

 

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