The last few years have brought an endless supply of Civil Rights and Civil War era films, making it more and more difficult for writers and directors to keep their subject matter fresh with each subsequent release. St. Vincent helmer, Theodore Melfi, faces this exact quandary with his 2016 late-year effort, Hidden Figures. Thankfully, this remarkable true story incorporates the unique backdrop of science and mathematics to provide the necessary originality needed to stand out amongst a crowded field of similarly-themed stories.
It's the early 1960s and the United States are in a fragile race to space against Soviet Russia. And after falling behind, the folks at NASA are forced to double-down on their efforts to get astronaut John Glenn into space and orbiting our planet. Yet, as racial tensions divide our nation, a trio of hardworking and sophisticated African American women (Taraji Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae) lead a united charge to help ensure that the United States defeats Russia on this scientific front.
Admittedly, Hidden Figures comes with a wide range of ups and downs. Throughout the duration of the film its Civil Rights subplot is addressed via an all too familiar approach. Absolutely no new light is shed on this unfortunate historical truth. Instead, Melfi and co-writer Allison Schroeder deliver stereotypical examples of racial injustices that tip-toe the line of embellishment considering how difficult it becomes to spot a sympathetic Caucasian within the structure of the film. However, this minor blemish falls by the way-side as the film's unbelievable real-life story begins to magnify. While the gluttony of math and science dispersed throughout its more than two-hour running time is likely to draw a yawning response from some audiences, I found it to be a refreshing and genuine examination of the common adult world where problem-solving has become a lost art. And through this eye-opening approach, Melfi and Schroeder manage to pen a strong collection of characters that are captured wonderfully by the film's three leading women. The entire trio deliver strong performances, but Janelle Monae happens to shine just a tad-bit brighter than co-stars Octavia Spencer (who will most likely earn an Oscar Nomination for the role) and Taraji Henson. Praises are also in order for Kevin Costner, who delivers his finest turn in years. Hidden Figures comes with many lulls and a few obvious flaws, yet the film centers around a soaring true story that deserves to be told and the entire cast and crew do a fine job of telling it.