42 Review

I'm not a big sports fan, in fact you could say I'm barely a fan at all, but like most kids I played little league baseball and came to have a certain nostalgia for the game in my now early adult years. Besides that, I have always enjoyed films about sports despite my lack of any real interest in professional league athletics. Though 42 doesn't reach the heights of some of the greater sports films and instead turns out to be rather straightforward and formulaic it is still a solid, interesting, and inspiring film purely on the basis of how rousing and great the actual story of Jackie Robinson truly is. Like I said, not knowing much about sports I couldn't attest to the historical accuracy of the film, but as a person who knows little to nothing about professional baseball I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed the film and that lack of interest in what serves as the backdrop for the drama here didn't hinder my experience. Writer/director Brian Helgeland (A Knight's Tale) still seems a little unsure of himself behind the camera as that straightforward, square vibe the film radiates is partially due to the completely conventional and basic way in which the film is shot and the story is told. It could be called uninspired or it could be said that Helgeland knew his material was strong enough that he didn't need to worry about trying something innovative or different in the way he conveyed the story. This is true, but this also keeps the movie safe and inside the lines of every sports drama that has ever come out. What is disappointing about that is the fact Robinson's story is anything but safe and so outside the box that I hoped a film about his life would be the same. Despite these complaints, I can't harp on the shortcomings of the film too much as I found myself always engaged and entertained by what was unfolding on screen.

Harrsion Ford as Branch Rickey and Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in 42.
After giving a brief history lesson and setting up the time period 42 jumps straight into the introduction of Branch Rickey, a man so integral in getting Jackie Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers that he is almost as much a lead character as Robinson himself. As portrayed by Harrsion Ford, Rickey is a curmudgeon of an old man on the outside with a heart of gold hidden underneath. He knows what he wants and he knows what is right and he's made up his mind that he's going to do something about it. With his power and influence it would be wrong not to. All I could think of every time Ford was onscreen was what if someone in his position never had the desire or courage to do what Rickey did, how much longer would it have taken and who would have been as great a ballplayer as Robinson proved to be? Naturally, it is reassuring to know none of these scenarios or questions would ever be tested or answered as Rickey made the right choice at the right time and with the audience having that perspective of history and knowing how everything turns out it seems Robinson was a no-brainer, an obvious choice, but at the time Rickey was taking a big risk in almost every aspect of his job and with his team. While the film begins with Rickey scouting Robinson out of the all black leagues and ushering him into training with the Montreal Royals I would have liked to have seen a little more backstory on where Robinson came from and how he came to become such a prominent figure in the all black league. Even if it was just a quick prologue with a glimpse of Robinson as a kid or teen where he first learned of his love and skill forsports or that moment that drove him to pursue a professional career in baseball. Anything would have been fine, I just needed a little more context as far as the man rather than just the times. Past that point we follow Robinson through the trials and tribulations of his 1946 season with the Royals and the 1947 season with the Dodgers that made him the first black man in professional baseball. We are treated to all the brutalities and pushed to all the limits Robinson had to endure and in doing so a clear picture is painted of the man he was and defines why he's become such a legend.

While the story is told in an old fashioned manner it is so uplifting and ultimately appealing that it is a guaranteed winner, but the ensemble cast Helgeland has put together for the film does nothing but improve it and strengthen the authenticity all the more. Second to the story itself, the cast is the most appealing aspect of the movie. This is clearly a bonus as it is the people involved who make the story either succeed or fail and in true stories it can sometimes be difficult to gauge where the line is between what is real and what has been added for dramatic effect. In the case of Robinson we have newcomer Chadwick Boseman who's appeared in several television shows and even had a spot in the similarly themes yet underrated The Express. Boseman does a fine job of not only capturing the youth and wonder of Robinson in the early stages of his career and correspondence with Rickey but also as a real man who has to take on the responsibility of an entire race and represent them in a place where the rest of the world feels they don't belong. Not only does he have to play the game well enough to make the white man respect him, but he also has to possess a level enough head that he won't allow the heckling and the threatening letters to deter him from his ultimate goal. It is a lot to ask of a man and sometimes it was hard to handle. It is in those private moments after being ridiculed by Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman (an oddly charming yet disgusting Alan Tudyk) where he goes into the dugout and releases his rage that we see the other side of the man that couldn't always take the pressure and that Robinson couldn't show the world. Only the real Robinson and Rickey would know the ins and outs of the what is played up in the film, but the layers of the character are there and Boseman does a fine job of not just portraying the hero side of this now mythical figure, but bringing him down to earth and making him someone the audience can truly relate to.

Nicole Beharie and Chadwick Boseman as Mr. and Mrs. Jackie Robinson.
The remainder of the cast is equally skilled as solid character actors fill out the smaller roles and teammates. Not mentioning Nicole Beharie (Shame) as Rachel Robinson would be a shame as, like her counterpart, she doesn't allow her character to slip into the standard supportive wife role, but instead the two of them are partners that understand one another and understand who they need to be to make the other one the best person they can be. It is a role that shrinks as the film goes on, but a crucial part of what made Robinson the kind of man he came to be known as. Andre Holland as reporter Wendell Smith, Hamish Linklater, Lucas Black and Ryan Merriman as fellow teammates who were on both sides of the fence, John C. McGinley, and Christopher Meloni all contributing in small ways but building what feels like a credible and realistic world for this film to capture the time in. In these performances we find the heart of the film and despite the dialogue sometimes coming off predictable, the shot choices feeling somewhat lackluster, and the music swelling far too much for dramatic emphasis near the end the moral of the story still comes through due to the actors and their dedication to the people they are playing. We all know the story and how it plays out, there is no need for tension as there is never a sense of doom hanging over the film, but instead a nice ray of hope that will show young and old audiences alike that bad things are always going to happen but it is the choices you make and the relationships you form that will get you through them and allow you to come out of that challenge all the better for it. The fact that Robinson's biopic doesn't play out like most famous people who gain fame or recognition and retreat due to their own demise is a testament to what kind of man he was, that he takes on everything he knows he'll have to endure by being the guy to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball and deals with it in strides while venting in private is only further testament to why such an honorable man didn't need any special effects or tricks to make him look like a super hero on the big screen.

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