HIDDEN FIGURES: For several decades, the United Negro College Fund has admonished that " a mind is a terrible thing to waste". That phrase kept running through my head as I watched this crowd-pleasing movie about three very intelligent black women (Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae, Octavia Spencer) who broke the color barrier at NASA's upper echelon during the Cold War space race of the early '60s. Like Jackie Robinson in 42 (2013), the women endure the indignities, injustices and all the "what are you doing here" stares from their white male dominated co-workers who all dress alike in generic white shirts and pencil-thin black ties. But when we hear the musical soundtrack from Pharrell Williams and Hans Zimmer begin to rise, we know we're on the cusp of a groundbreaking moment. Most of co-writer/director Theodore Melfi's (ST. VINCENT) screenplay focuses on Henson's (THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON) character who's a whiz at analytical geometry and a single mom with three daughters. The family lives of the other two women are somewhat glossed over and there are definitely some melodramatic, over the top scenes that feel like they exist to elicit a reaction from the audience. But there are strong ensemble performances from the trio of women and from Kevin Costner (See CLOSING CREDITS.) who effectively underplays his role as head of NASA's engineering department. The film is enhanced by illustrating the genuine perils of early manned space flights and the inherent risk to life for what we now take for granted. And even though we know how these initial forays into outer space turned out, there's enough suspense combined with a proper amount of sentiment to make this a highly watchable movie about a group of formerly unheralded women who brought "the bright stuff" to the early years of the American space program.
CRITIC'S GRADE: B+
CLOSING CREDITS: Here are some other excellent movies starring Kevin Costner - NIGHT SHIFT (1982), TESTAMENT (1983), THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987), BULL DURHAM (1988), FIELD OF DREAMS (1989), DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990)*, JFK (1991), THE BODYGUARD (1992), OPEN RANGE (2003), THE UPSIDE OF ANGER (2005), SWING VOTE (2008), THE COMPANY MEN (2010), DRAFT DAY (2014), McFARLAND USA (2015)
*Academy Award Winner for Best Picture and Best Director; also Nominated for Best Actor