Hidden Figures
dir Theodore Melfi
scr Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi
prd Peter Chernin, Donna Gigliotti, Theodore Melfi, Jenno Topping, Pharrell Williams
with Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Glen Powell, Kimberly Quinn, Olek Krupa, Kurt Krause
release US 25.Dec.16, UK 24.Feb.17
16/US Fox 2h05
Hidden Figures
Powering the space race: Spencer, Henson and Monae

costner dunst parsons
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Hidden Figures Based on true events, this warm, witty drama is a bit too polished and nice to properly explore the serious issues it raises about sexism and racism. But it's a great story, told in an entertaining way. The performances are strong across the board. And the film boldly takes on some big, relevant themes, even if the approach is never terribly complex.

In 1961 Virginia, Nasa is losing the space race to the Russians, so Director Al (Costner) turns to the ladies in the "colored computer" room in the basement, where they receive little recognition. Katherine (Henson) is brought upstairs to crunch the numbers in Mission Control. Mary (Monae) struggles on the sidelines, despite being more qualified than most of the engineering team. And Dorothy (Spencer), annoyed that she's doing the job of supervisor without the title or pay, is the only one who understands the new computer system. The question is whether anyone will notice them.

The screenplay makes its points with gentle humour, such as Katherine's desperate sprint between buildings to find her designated restroom. And the writers also stir in back-story details to crank up the emotions, such as in Katherine's struggle to balance her full-time job with being a single mother to three whip-smart girls. All three of them are faced by near-constant obstacles that they surmount with intelligence and personality. And they all have key skills that Nasa needs if it hopes to succeed in getting John Glenn (Powell) into space.

The layers of the plot give Henson and Monae the strongest characters, and both are terrific in the roles. Because of their multi-sided performances, every tiny step forward resonates strongly. There's even an offhanded little romance for Katherine with Ali's National Guardsman, and some moving tension for Mary and her preacher husband (Hodge) as she goes to court for the right to study in an all-white school. By comparison, Spencer has a less-detailed character to work with but gets some fantastic moments along the way.

Director Melfi edits in key actual news clips to illustrate the events of the day and vividly set the scene. The opposition these women get to their contributions is striking, especially the racist-sexist reactions she gets from Parson's stiff, snippy mathematician. Seeing these three black women prove themselves in fields dominated with white men is a stark reminder that perhaps we haven't come as far as we'd like to think we have.

cert pg themes 7.Dec.16

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