42

by Alan Rapp on April 13, 2013

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: 42
  • IMDB: link

42Written and directed by Brian Helgeland, 42 chronicles the struggle and rise of Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) as Major League Baseball’s first African American player. Although a bit formulaic (it seems we’ve got several similar racially-themed sports movies over the past decade or so with The Express, Pride, and Remember the Titans), Helgeland successfully delivers an emotional and uplifting tale that’s more concerned with the historical importance of Robinson’s ascension to the majors than the any specific game of baseball in which he played.

In a straightforward story like this that doesn’t dig too deep into the hidden recesses and personal life of its main character to offer new insights not already available to the general pubic much of the success or failure is going to rely on the performances to carry the film. Here Helgeland makes terrific choices as Boseman (who coincidentally played Floyd Little in the similarly-themed The Express) carries the film with the ease Robinson swung a bat or caught a fly ball.

Heglund surrounds Boseman with a strong supporting cast highlighted by Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, the man responsible for signing Robinson to a major league contract, Nicole Beharie as Robinson’s wife Rae, and Alan Tudyk in a surprising turn as the Phillies racist manager Ben Chapman. Ford is well cast (if a bit hammy, especially early on), Beharie is terrific as the woman behind the man, and Tudyk is uncomfortably aggressive with his public racial taunts that don’t sugarcoat the kind of world and acceptable behavior that Ricky and Robinson were attempting to change in 1947.

The film does a good job recreating the look and feel of the mid-1940’s, the oppressive feel of segregation, and the hope that Robinson’s baseball career gave to some while bringing out fear and hatred in others. In a game about baseball we get smatterings of pieces of games, a few at bats for Robinson here and there, but as the film is focused on the man’s one year career in the Minor Leagues and his entire first year with the Dodgers there’s only so much actual baseball that can be shown over the film’s two-hour running time.

42

With the focus on Robinson, and to a lesser extent Rickey, the Dodger teammates also get less time than you’d like for a movie about a team sport. Although the film shows how the Dodgers began to rally around a player many didn’t want on their team to begin the season, there’s not much time spent on the individual players themselves. Lucas Black has one of the signature moments of the movie as shortstop Pee Wee Reese who puts his arm around his teammate in show of support in front of a less than tolerant Cincinnati crowd and Hamish Linklater provides one of the film’s lighter moments in an awkward discussion about Robinson showering with the rest of the team, but, although well acted, few of the other members of the team make much of an impression.

It’s likely you won’t leave 42 with more insight into Robinson’s private life or how he played the game than you had walking in to the theater, but Helgeland’s tale does a good job of underlining the historical importance of Robinson’s career in baseball without browbeating the audience into submission. Ford is used well in his supporting role, but I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing a film centered on Rickey who was also responsible for bringing Roberto Clemente into Major League Baseball and being a pioneer in baseball accepting batting helmets, pitching machines, statistical analysis, and creating the minor league farm system (none of which are covered in the film).

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

babs April 22, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Took my whole family to see it this weekend and everyone loved it.

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jeremy April 30, 2013 at 9:43 pm

I enjoyed this movie but agree that I would also want to see a movie on Harrison Ford’s character too.

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