The walls of a watering hole at a Californian airbase that attracts the nation's best test pilots are adorned with the photos of the men who lost their lives seeking glory in the sky. Visiting the bar are government men seeking airmen to break the sound barrier, although their offers are roundly rejected, being too low for such a hazardous proposition. Taking them up is the stoic war hero Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) who sets the record in dazzling fashion but finds himself left in the dust when, in an effort to keep up with the Russians, the U.S. seeks out flyboys with the titular panache to lead the Mercury program as the country's first astronauts. Adapted for the screen by Philip Kaufman from Tom Wolfe's nonfiction novel, The Right Stuff is perhaps one of the funnest (and funniest) epics ever conceived. With the incredible contrast between Shepard's foreboding, almost mystical desert scenes, the jaunty antics of the training and publicity sequences of the Mercury crew, and the harrowing flight scenes, it is a supreme form of storytelling consisting of countless memorable scenes (my favorite being the incredibly moving standoff between LBJ and Mrs. John Glenn). Shepherd stands at the film's center in an assured, unforgettable performance and those comprising the Mercury squad, including Ed Harris as John Glenn, and Dennis Quaid and Fred Ward in particularly funny roles, are also tremendous.
**** out of ****