By Jack Dignan
Originally Published on Salty Popcorn - You Can Find Several Other Reviews By Jack Dignan Here As Well
While watching HIDDEN FIGURES, I found myself experiencing a whirlwind of different emotions. I wanted to stand up and cheer. I wanted to burst into tears. And I wanted to yell and scream in frustration. The film pulled and tugged on all sorts of feelings, never allowing me to prepare for the emotional beating I was about to receive. Already a hit over in the U.S., this is a vital and important movie that tells a story we all need to know about. Thankfully, it’s looking like it’s going to be a hit here in Australia too, and deservingly so.
We’ve all heard stories about the space race. Some of us even lived through it. Russia and the U.S. were going head to head battling it out to be the first to put a man in space. What you probably haven’t heard of before, although definitely should have, is the story about the three women who made this race even remotely possible for the U.S.. In the early years of NASA, they struggled. They could achieve the basics, but nothing substantial enough to maintain an orbital flight around the Earth, much to the frustration of Al Harrison (Kevin Costner). To achieve the impossible, they send out a call to all employees, hoping to take on the brightest mathematician they can find. And they find one.
Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) has been gifted from a young age, accelerated through school and topping her classes in the process, able to work out any numbers put her way. Katherine is the first coloured person to fill out her role, met with discrimination and lack of appreciation from the fellow staff. However, she’s always dreamed big, breaking down gender, race and political boundaries to achieve the impossible by helping put astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) into space, aided and supported by her colleagues and close friends, Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe).
This is a film that couldn’t have arrived at a more critical time. It’s a film that transcends gender and nationality, showcasing the human spirit at its finest and most determined. Racism has always been a problem, remaining so to this day, so the fact that HIDDEN FIGURES actually happened and that these three women were able to achieve the unthinkable had me floored. Frequently throughout, I was struck with the need to burst into happy tears. I was uplifted, moved and encouraged, a bigger smile on my face than ever before. Adversity is tough to overcome, but these three women were able to do that and more. It’s immensely pleasing to watch, unable to put a bigger smile on my face even if it tried.
How this story managed to remain so well hidden for so many years is heartbreaking. This is a story we all should’ve learnt about during school, a historic landmark that ends up serving as crucial cinema. Without these women, America wouldn’t have been able to orbit the Earth and they certainly wouldn’t have been able to travel to the moon. Katherine works as our protagonist, her journey the most important and relevant to the story at hand, the implications of her actions bigger than you’d think, but that’s not to say the supporting cast isn’t nearly as important. While it’s Katherine who gets the spotlight, Dorothy and Mary fight their own battles, each attempting to do that which has never been done before, treating it with much needed dignity and humility.
For a biopic such as this one, surprises are at a minimum. The journey these women go on is a delightful one, if not occasionally heart wrenching. Unfortunately, it’s made clear early on whereabouts this journey is going. The plot moves in a fairly conventional manner, beginning all the way back when Katherine was but a child, something not exactly necessary to the story but welcomed nonetheless. Even if you are to ignore the fact that the trailer gave away most of the major plot points, the film doesn’t do a great job at hiding what’s the come, yet at the same time, this isn’t that big of a problem.
Watching this film isn’t about the twists and turns in the plot, although granted it did have me clenching my fists in anticipation during its climactic and powerful third act. This is a film about the emotions it can stir up inside of you, bringing to light a story we all need to hear. It’s a film with big ambitions, maybe not quite as big as the ones the characters have in the film itself, but they’re ambitions worthy of a big screen adaptation. It’ll touch your heart, stir with your feelings and leave you wholly satisfied with the way everything played out, if not a little enraged too.
Of it’s three recent Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, HIDDEN FIGURES received just one for acting, awarded to Octavia Spencer. I’m beyond happy that Spencer received a nomination, as she more than deserves it, even providing one of the biggest “fuck yeah” moments of the film. Her character’s ambitions are made clear, Spencer’s performance every bit as perfect as you’ve come to expect from an actress of her calibre. Several moments throughout had me in awe of just how good she was, providing a performance rich with diversity and layers.
Her nomination is pleasing, although she definitely shouldn’t have been the only cast member who received one, as it’s Taraji P. Henson who steals the show with her tear jerking, natural and unforgettable performance. Sharing a lot of screen time with Kevin Costner and Jim Parsons, every scene she’s in feels eloquent, yet striking. Burdened with hardships and the preconceived opinions of others in relation to who she is, everything that could get in her way does. And it never manages to stop her. One scene in particular hit me the hardest, appearing to have the same effect on everybody else in the screening. It was in watching that scene where her excellence leaps off the screen, creating yet another Oscar upset.
It’s an international box office smash, a critical success, an awards contender and just a brilliant movie. It’s far from perfect, most movies are, but HIDDEN FIGURES is a film you not only should seek out, but one you almost have to. A joyful, emotional, compelling and hard hitting true story that deserves way more recognition than it got these last few decades.
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