A GREAT American movie in a new epic form, The Right Stuff fuses the comic and the heroic to emerge as a knockabout social comedy that also packs a thriller inspirational and -- why deny it?-- patriotic wallop.
Kaufman (like Tom Wolfe, whose book The Right Stuff this is taken from) is well enough aware of the media circus surrounding the whole project, but still celebrates his magnificent seven's heroism with a rhetoric that is respectful and irresistible.
Kaufman's love for the Yeager character pays off in the magical closing sequence of the film, when the "best pilot in the world" eyeballs anew Air Force jet and says, "I have a feeling this little old plane right here might be able to beat that Russian record."
In a brash, beautiful, deeply American film, Kaufman has combined the resources and ingenuity of movie making with the freewheeling, damn-the-conventions style of of the New Journalism and come up with a generous, high-spirited look at the bravery and lunacy that was that era.
Efficient and absorbing...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).
It is long. Very, very long...And it feels its length, feels every bit the 190 minutes of it. This is a problem for a movie. A movie can be any length at all if its audience remains unaware of its artifice, remains suspended in time. But in The Right Stuff, we are always aware that there's a movie going on, rather than lives on a screen; by the end, there is the feeling of having been dragged through recent history, feet first. The Right Stuff is exciting from time to time; it has its jolts and its snaps and its nostalgic tweaks. But there is more to a roller coaster than a bumpy ride, and The Right Stuff does not thrill. [16 Oct 1983, p.L1]