The Right Stuff | Chicago Reader

The Right Stuff

193 minutes 2013

Philip Kaufman's 1983 film is an efficient and absorbing recapitulation of the main events of Tom Wolfe's book that still never succeeds in capturing the inner drives and ethics of the test pilots and astronauts—the "right stuff" never materializes. Kaufman clearly intends his film as a celebration of the lonely heroism of pioneer pilot Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard), but seems uncertain of how to handle the material's pull toward the ironic story of the "spam in a can" astronauts; he lays the irony off, in an unforgivably cartoonish form, on the politicians behind the space program, which reduces the entire social and political context to the cheesy dimensions of a Saturday Night Live sketch. But in spite of Kaufman's frequent faults of taste and judgment, the film flies on the strength of its collective performances—which range from the merely excellent (Scott Glenn) to the sublime (Ed Harris).

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