When award season comes around every year, there’s a probability that a film around racism and/or civil rights in the US will be gunning for a Best Picture nomination. This year we get two films, the first being Fences and the other being Theodore Melfi’s biopic Hidden Figures.
I decided to see this film differently to the other films I’ve seen this year. As well as garnering the Best Picture nomination, it is also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer). Therefore, I set these factors as a priority to present to you.
First of all, the screenplay presents the film in an interesting period of time, not only is the civil rights movement in full swing, but also the beginnings of the space race between the US and Russia, no-one could have ever thought that these two periods of American history would piece together perfectly and yet the writers Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi himself have managed to find this story that presents the misogyny these three women have to go through on a day to day basis, which is made even worse because of the colour of their skin. A recurring scene where Katherine must travel a great distance just so she can use the bathroom highlights the misogyny and the presence of racism within the US at the time of the film events.
But the screenplay isn’t about the space race, its focus is on the effort of the three mathematicians during this period. Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson) takes centre stage as a child genius working as a human computer for NASA. Taraji’s performance is one of decency, but it taken to a whole new level when conflict hits her at every corner of her job. Her character’s outburst against the misogyny is incredibly powerful and her dialogue delivery is constantly brilliant throughout the film.
On the subject of conflict, misogyny is one such battle but the supporting characters such as Dorothy (Octavia Spencer) and Mary (Janelle Monáe) must deal with the risk of redundancy and the hardships of chasing dreams as well, this gives the audience three unique women with unique struggles creating a more intriguing experience and story.
Now the films next nomination for best supporting actress, this is where things start to get tricky. Whist Octavia Spencer put on a great performance as Dorothy by giving us a strong character added with dignity, Kevin Costner gives a much stronger performance than Octavia Spencer. The reasons behind this are much like the reasons as to why Taraji make the character of Katherine compelling. He is single minded on getting the mathematics right just like Katherine and they both share a similar perspective on getting a man into space by looking beyond the mathematics. Don’t get me wrong, I believe the nomination of Octavia Spencer is deserved, just as much as Kevin Costner deserved to have a shot at supporting actor.
What the film demands from you is respect for these women and depending on your attachment to the character’s results in the amount of respect you can give. You have to be really invested in the characters to find any sort of enjoyment from Margot Lee Shetterly’s adapted novel. If you are used to seeing films purely as an entertainment product, you may want to break out the popcorn beforehand.
Tone wise, Hidden Figures set the pace as many recent biopics give us, they spend the time on the characters who are the focus and essential to narrative progression. The depictions of Katherine’s relationship with her family adds to soften the flow in-between the scenes involving complicated arithmetic.
Something I found to be a markdown on the film is the number of cuts in various scenes to various camera angles. Although each shot is very well framed, it shouldn’t give the editor a reason to use all of them. During a scene when Katherine is introduced to her all white department, the film seems to cut after every piece of dialogue. In doing so we only see a character’s reaction at the start of every cut, I believe that the film may have been improved by lingering on the characters faces during another character’s dialogue delivery. By doing this, a heavier atmosphere in the scene can be created leaving a bigger impression on audiences.
I suppose the big conclusion is to validate how much Hidden Figures deserves the Oscar nod. It still puzzles me, on the one hand Hidden Figures paints a very detailed picture portraying a slice of these three mathematicians lives but I feel that there could have been more worthy recipients. Yes, the screenplay is very well adapted with the right amount of emotional dialogue needed to carry the film but you won’t be putting money on it to win best pictures. A great biopic nonetheless.
Final Result: 7/10 – Good
Have you seen Hidden Figures? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
Next Time: A Cure for Wellness