‘Hidden Figures’ finds acclaim in performances

By: Trever McKenzie ~Staff Writer~

Photo courtesy of nyt.com | Janelle Monáe (left), Taraji P. Henson (center) and Octavia Spencer (right) star in critically heralded Hidden Figures, which was widely released on Jan. 6.

If I had to rate Hidden Figures, I’d have to use math that doesn’t exist. The movie, unlike many before it, absolutely lived up to the incredible hype. I watched this movie with my mom. She cried at least three times, and I even felt like crying, too. There was something so abnormally compelling in this rendition of Katherine G. Johnson’s time at NASA that propelled it far above most historically based movies.

I can’t start this review without talking about the wonderful chemistry between the three lead actresses. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe, as a whole unit, portrayed their characters in inspiring ways, juxtaposing the high-class artificiality of the white ‘60s with vibrant Black personalities.

The women danced, sang, prayed, cried and celebrated, but in the midst of it all, they showed determination and wit when solving some of the most difficult problems that faced NASA’s engineers. Each actress individually portrayed her character uniquely and powerfully.

Henson brought a tense vulnerability to Katherine but maintained her dignity in situations that would embarrass most. She played Katherine softly throughout most of the movie, which gave power to her incredible bathroom speech and gave poise and confidence during the movie’s final moments of success and grandeur.

Throughout the movie, she portrayed the stress of the job on her face better than most actresses ever could, a testament to her commitment. Her charm was undeniable, and any time she was on screen, I automatically focused on her.

However, that does not discredit the other actresses. Octavia Spencer, probably my favorite actress ever, was a blast to watch as Dorothy Vaughn. She brought a very quiet power to her roles, never letting the confidence of the characters she portrayed exceed their poise. She delivered great zingers with class and respect, and her reserved but unabashed personality is always fun to watch.

Janelle Monáe brought sharpness and spiciness to her role as Mary Jackson. I silently cheered when she walked into an all-white classroom she fought to get into and sat right in the front row. It was a triumph anyone could get behind.

The supporting characters were believable, even if a bit depthless. Kevin Costner had a particularly interesting take on Al Harrison, showing him as a down-to-earth man who could be both surprised and sure of himself.

The scene where he broke down the “Colored Ladies Bathroom” sign was both hilarious and inspiring.

Jim Parsons, an interesting choice for Paul Stafford, really surprised me in the beginning; his characteristic certainty that we usually see in his popular role as The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon was absent at first, though he did tend to slide back into his know-it-all, abrasive attitude in the end.

A word or two must be said about the direction by Theodore Melfi. Above all, he utilized parallels and silences the best, in my opinion. His imagery of Katherine taking chalk from someone above her during a big opportunity really gave weight to every decision that she made, and the image of Sam Turner (Kurt Krause) running across the parking lot the same way Katherine did in the beginning was funny and poignant.

The best scene was when everyone was waiting for Glenn Beck to respond to NASA – it was tense and powerful. The musical score being replaced with a city quiet, with characters waiting with held breath, was unbelievably memorable, and everyone in the theater was shell-shocked the whole time.

Hidden Figures did exactly what it wanted: to show us the struggle of Katherine Johnson and immortalize her amazing work that was suppressed from public eye in a time when the odds were always stacked against her. I will probably watch it again, and you should too.