MOVIE REVIEW | The Right Stuff (1983)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Basically a commercial for America.”

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“The first American into space is not going to be a chimpanzee. I want test pilots!”

These days when the Cold War is used as the backdrop for a movie, it generally comes with a healthy level of cynicism.  There are rarely clear cut good guys or bad guys, and the paranoia and corruption of leaders on both sides are fair game.  But in 1983, the Berlin Wall was still up, the USSR was still a thing we were told to be wary of, and America was in the grips of conservative renaissance under the leadership of limited actor and A-grade prick, Ronald Reagan.  In 1983, it was still a time when a movie about the space race was all flag waving, back patting and star spangled.  It was a time when they made movies like The Right Stuff.

After several attempts to break the sound barrier end in fiery explosions, war hero Captain Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) steps up to the plate and he gets the job done in 1947.  Over the next few years, Yeager and best friend/rival Scott Crossfield (Scott Wilson) repeatedly beat each other’s air speed records. At first top secret, the government decides to start publishing their efforts as a way of building national morale, and pressuring congress into giving them more money.

With the sound barrier well and truly defeated, the Americans set their sights on going where no man has gone before.  And since the Ruskies have the same idea, the space race is born as the Yanks and Russians scramble to be the first to put a man in space.  While Yeager is immediately disqualified due to his lack of college education, several of his test pilot friends are chosen to train as America’s first astronauts, along with Marine hero, John Glenn (Ed Harris).

When I described The Right Stuff as, “all flag waving, back patting and star spangled” in my intro to this review, it probably sounded a bit pissy and derogatory.  But that’s not how I meant it.  Because while its patriotism is a little on the nose, it never stops the movie from being undeniably uplifting.  It’s the kind of movie where I can feel exactly how and when it’s manipulating me, without that ever becoming a problem.
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The Right Stuff is basically a commercial for America.  It’s about American ingenuity, American spirit, American drive and determination.  And it’s the kind of story that can actually hold up under that sort of corny weight.  It’s a fist pump of a movie, filled with characters that are easy to see as modern heroes.  It’s pure puff, but at least it’s entertaining puff.

The Right Stuff
Directed By – Philip Kaufman
Written By – Philip Kaufman

Other Opinions Are Available.  What did these people have to say about The Right Stuff?
Roger Ebert
The Dissolve
Man of Yesterday

4 thoughts on “MOVIE REVIEW | The Right Stuff (1983)

  1. I’ve never seen the film but have read Wolfe’s book and I’d actually forgotten about this movie. I believe Wolfe wasn’t happy with the “liberties” taken in the storytelling. If that’s the case then I can only imagine what he thought about the film version of Bonfire of the Vanities.

    I appreciate the differences between the two works – non fiction and fiction but now that he’s been stung at least twice, you’d think he’s not taking calls from studio producers anymore.

    1. I try to never compare a movie to its source material. A movie is a stand alone thing and has no obligation to stick to its source. It’s only obligation is to be good.

  2. Two things stick with me though I haven’t seen the film in years. There’s a surprising and delightful amount of humor. And I love the moment when the astronauts are watching a dance interpretation of space travel and they share this look among them like ‘nice try but they have no idea.’ Enjoyed the review!

    1. Thanks Amy. I kind of wanted to dislike it because of its corny patriotism. But you’re right, it has a few sequences that are just too enjoyable and charming to dismiss.

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