With a cracking soundtrack and a swinging ’60s style, Hidden Figures is bursting with love for the glory days of the space race – although it isn’t afraid to question why it’s taken this long for this story to be told. A tight script bounces along with warmth, nuance and a deep respect for the story it is telling, with three fantastic characters at the centre.
Following up her scene-stealing turn in Moonlight, Hidden Figures cements Janelle Monáe’s position as film’s breakout star of 2017. As the first black female NASA Engineer Mary Jackson, Monáe tears through the scenery with relish – but without overshadowing Octavia Spencer or Taraji P. Henson, the latter of whom gives a beautiful layered performance that demands empathy – and your attention.
Spencer underplays her part to great effect as Dorothy Vaughan, the first African-American NASA supervisor. Her quiet and sturdy conviction to better not only her own standing, but that of her colleagues, makes her a perfect counterpart to the louder performances by Monáe and Henson.
The rest of the cast give solid background performances, with Jim Parsons and Kirsten Dunst putting in good work representing the wrong side of history. Unfortunately the film flounders with Kevin Costner’s character – after focusing so intently on the grit and drive these three incredible women show to pull themselves forward, Hidden Figures cuts itself off at the knees by giving Costner his own little fictitious hero arc, in a subplot that walks a little close to the “white saviour” trope.
Luckily this is a small stumble, and while the film leans a little hard on the schmaltz, Hidden Figures is guaranteed to win you over thanks to three fantastic central performances. Telling a moving and inspiring true story with flair and panache, the film is a must-see this awards season.
CAST: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner
DIRECTOR: Theodore Melfi
WRITERS: Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi (screenplay), Margot Lee Shetterly (based on the book by)
SYNOPSIS: As the United States races against Russia to put a man in space, NASA finds untapped talent in a group of female African-American mathematicians that serve as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in US history.