Very few films were made until now about the beginnings of the American space program, and I am wondering why. Here is a true American saga that took place at a time that is still remembered by many of us. It’s a story with famous and anonymous heroes, a story that begins with the dismay and fear caused by the Soviets taking early lead in the race to space (with the launching of the Sputnik and with sending the first man in space) and ends in triumph with the Apollo program and the moon landings. And yet, Hollywood still has to approach the period and make the movies about this great story and the men that made it possible. Hidden Figures only partly fills some of this gap, looking at a little known aspect of the first space programs, from a specific perspective, with the emphasis on an unexpected and unknown aspect – the racial prejudice that faced and had to be overcome by the first Afro-American contributors to the program. It tells the story of (until now) little known heroes who not only were ‘colored’ but also all happened to be women.
Hidden Figures is a fiction film based on the nonfiction book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, written by historian Margot Lee Shetterly. The script authors and director Theodore Melfi where extremely careful in the details, from dialogues that aim to be as close to reality as they are remembered by the heroes who lived the period (including apparently a scene that looks very Hollywood-like but apparently did happen, with John Glenn on the launching ramp of the very first flight asking for the computations to be checked by ‘the girl’ he met in the preparation meetings room) to details about how buildings, corridors, rooms, parking lots looked at the NASA compounds in Virginia. What is shocking today especially from a non-American perspective is the extent to which segregation and racial discrimination was part of life and of the books of laws a little more than half a century ago, in the country that was leading the democracy block in its fight against Communism, and was working to send its first men to space.
Yet, the ‘inspirational’ tone dominates the film, and the viewer has the feeling that almost every fact, action, or spoken dialog is in line with the point that the film aims to make. A more realistic or neutral approach would have made the message more convincing IMO. I did like the characters development, the fact that three women who are the lead characters in the film have each her own personality, talents, way of overcoming prejudice. The three actresses are Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe and I hope to see them in more (good) movies ahead. Kevin Costner and Kirsten Dunst are cast in supporting roles and they do a good job. Hidden Figures is a solid and in some places emotional film, but cannot break the convention of genre and style that it seems that the authors imposed on themselves.
Sometimes melodrama works. Then the reviewer in me faces a dilemma. I know that you need to buy into the story in order to feel anything in a melodrama, but who does not buy into it if they are parents, faced the teen crises of their kids, were too busy to dedicate to them the time they deserve (which is approximately all the time in the world)? Did I actually name all the parents population in the world with a few rare exceptions? Of course, only very few of us if any practice the profession of paid killer in the service of the CIA, as does Kevin Costner in 3 Days to Kill, a combination of a ‘absent father – daughter’ relation with a Luc Besson co-written thriller.
I belong to the category of fans who are quite disappointed about the downturn of the career of Kevin Costner (both as actor and director). It’s due in my opinion to some big projects that were less successful than planned at the end of the 90s, followed by a lack of great roles. ’3 Days to Kill’ is not the film that will put his acting career back on the stellar path, it’s a lead role but written in a manner where accurate execution and a touch of humor and sensibility are all that is needed. Which Costner delivers.
There is nothing special and nothing wrong in this film directed by McG. The professional level of execution of the story telling, good acting with a cast which aside Costner also includes another semi-comeback by Connie Nielsen, a touch of humor which makes the violence on screen palatable, the background of Paris which always looks well – all these are actually the setting for the family melodrama which simply works. The cast also includes good performances by Hailee Steinfeld (in the role of the teenage daughter, she actually has an impressive acting record although she was just around 18 when the film was made) and Marc Andréoni.
We can ask for more, of course, but for this summer day it was the good entertainment I needed.
‘Mr. Brooks’ is a curious combination. The casting succeeds to bring together on screen a few big stars just a fraction of second after the peaks of their careers (5 or 10 years before 2007 this film would probably have been to expensive to make because of the salaries of the actors). Set in the very urban landscape of Portland, it has a very ‘big studios’ look which combined with a story that seems to walk dangerously on the edge of melodrama made me think for a while that this will not be the last-viewed-in-2013 film I asked for. However, some place in the middle of the film the several rather conventional parallel threads start making sense and enhance the effect of each other. This seems to be the merit of director Bruce A. Evans who is also the co-writer of the script which seems to have been long in cooking and not easily accepted by the studios. For some good reasons from their point of view, which may be part of the reasons I liked it.
The story: Successful businessman Mr. Brooks (Kevin Costner) has it all (prosperous business, beautiful wife, loving daughter in college, the villa of anybody’s dreams) but also a double life. He kills at night, he is actually a serial killer who murders because of an addiction, and does it in the same quite, smart and organized manner he is running his business and his whole life which allows him to never get caught. He would quit killing but his dark side alter-ego would not let him (William Hurt), he is even some kind of Catholic praying to avoid sin all over the film. When he eventually makes one mistake the police-woman in charge with his case (Demi Moore) gets dangerously close, and a young pervert who photographed his last murder blackmails him into becoming his partner. Things get even more complicated, as the police-woman is entangled in an ugly divorce, and Brook’s daughter is in deep trouble having inherited some of her dad’s night habits. Will he be able to solve all these? Will he use the big talent we all know he has – being a serial killer?
I will not tell more because there is much to enjoy in this film and I would not like to discourage folks who happen to read this. I will just say that not only things come together surprisingly well from a story line point of view and the whole is much better than the parts, but that we also end as viewers by understanding the actions of the hero and to some extent sympathize with him (although in real life we would not have any reasons to do it). Kevin Costner’s acting is certainly part of the reason, and having him paired with William Hurt creates a couple with a formidable magnetism. Demi Moore also makes best of a role which is usually schematic in many movies but proves here to be more complex than expected. The telling of a disturbing story in a fluent and intelligent manner combined with the mid-high class setting makes for highly efficient cinema. It’s like when you taste a meal and it is spicy and surprising although you know it was prepared from many banal ingredients you can find in any supermarket. Bruce A. Evans is very scarce in his directing experiences. This film made in 2007 is actually only his second film, the first one was made in 1992! I really hope that we’ll not have to wait another 15 years to elapse until his next.