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USA 1983
Directed by
Philip Kaufman
193 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Right Stuff

Based on Tom Wolfe's account of the beginnings of America's space race, The Right Stuff is a real-life adventure story about men doing manly (some might say, pointless) things. It centres on the career of Air Force test pilot, Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard), the first man to break the sound barrier, which he did in a tiny red plane which looked like something out of a 1950s comic. The film is built around the contrast between Yeager’s old fashioned “frontiersman” approach to flying and the new breed of fly-boys, the carefully-screened and cosseted astronauts of America’s newly-begun space program derisively tagged by him as “spam in a can”.

The story, which covers a 15 year span in its 3 hour running time takes us step by step through the history of the rapidly progressing space race with the Soviet Union - from Yeager's passing of Mach 1 in an experimental X-1 plane to Gordon Cooper's multi-orbit around Earth, the last solo space flight – but giving it the human dimension which was drowned in the politicized media hype of the time  Whilst all this is commendably thorough and technically the film is impressively well-made, Kaufman, who also wrote the script, labours his points, particularly in the first part of the story, repeating virtually every scene of significance. The film could have been considerably shorter without any loss of its message. 

A strong male cast including besides Shepard, Dennis Quaid, Ed Harris, Fred Ward and Scott Glenn, all of whom were at the beginnings of their screen careers, is excellent in bringing home the all-American god-fearin' gung-ho spirit which drove these individuals to go where no human had been before. The female cast including Barbara Hershey, then at the peak of her career, are largely limited to walk-on parts in this testosterone-fueled environment.

The film picked up Oscars for Best Score (by Bill Conti) as well as for Sound and Editing, but Caleb Deschanel's aerial photography is also superb (although Deschanel was nominated for itm the Oscar went to Sven Nykvist for Fanny And Alexander) and deserves the biggest and best quality screen that you can find.




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