Fiction in The Truth: Our Review of ‘Hidden Figures’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - December 23, 2016
Fiction in The Truth: Our Review of ‘Hidden Figures’

When try to tell or recap something that actually happened you have to take a few liberties with the facts in order to get the job done in an entertaining way.  Hidden Figures takes some pretty broad strokes with the facts but it still extends an interesting and socially compelling story.

It’s the height of the space race as both Russia and the United States are trying to get to the great beyond first and NASA found untapped talent in a group of African-American female mathematicians that served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in U.S. history.  Based on the unbelievably true life stories of three of these women, known as “human computers”, we follow these unique women as they quickly but not with difficulty climb the ranks of NASA alongside many of history’s greatest minds specifically tasked with calculating the momentous launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, and guaranteeing his safe return. Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson (Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae and Taraji P Henson) crossed all gender, race, and professional lines while their brilliance and desire to dream big, beyond anything ever accomplished before by the human race, firmly cemented them in U.S. history as true American heroes.

While the unmistakable whiff of awards bait is all over Hidden Figures and some of the tricks that it uses to evoke an emotional response, it is still an undeniably entertaining yarn that manages to be genuinely inspirational and motivational without being ham handed or pandering to the audience.

Director and Co-Writer Theodore Melfi give us a glossy yet relevant affair as the social mindset of the times is never too far out of reach but allows the struggles of these women to be based in the science and the math of the problems at hand.  As much as we can talk about this being a story of woman’s rights or a story about racial equality (and it is), Melfi allows the audience to appreciate this story from a level of parity.  Math and Science are oblivious to issues of race and gender and gives us a genuine fight equality based on talent and ability, rather than gender or race and in the media filled landscape of toxic rhetoric where so many messages can get lost or diluted this is a refreshing change pace.  While the facts are played with pretty loosely, Melfi walks a careful tightrope between being socially relevant and being pure entertainment with deft ease because had this story gone too far one way or the other it could have been a real forgettable tale and this is anything but thanks to some fantastic performances.

Led by the indomitable Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughn she projected genuine strength and ingenuity which are two traits that anybody in any walk of life looking to get ahead can draw strength and learn from.  She brings attitude and spark to a roll during a time that those things had to be reserved in even the strongest and most ambitious of women, especially those of colour.  Janelle Monae is quickly making us forget that she still has a career as a successful musician turning in her second memorable on screen performance of the year and is proving that she has a future as leading lady of colour without any doubt and Taraji P Henson as the lynchpin of our entire narrative is stalwart as a single mother trying to raise her kids in a world where opportunity is based on talent and achievements.  It makes for a wonderfully emotional ride as she not only works on the team trying to get a man into space but get a man into her life as well.  Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Mahershala Ali and Jim Parsons round out a very talented ensemble cast as see these women strive for something a little bit better then what they’ve been told that they are allowed to have.

It doesn’t often get enough attention when a message movie is also an entertaining piece of cinema as well but Hidden Figures manages to be exactly that.  While I’ll admit it could do to cut a few minutes off of its healthy 127 minute run time, it gives us the best of both worlds at the cinema.  Some quality entertainment and something to talk about and a reminder of an idea that we need to keep aspiring to, long after the movie is over.

Hidden Figures opens in Toronto on Christmas Day and rolls out across the country in early January.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like Examiner.com, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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