*** (out of 5)
April 12, 2013
Chadwick Boseman as JACKIE ROBINSON
Harrison Ford as BRANCH RICKEY
Nicole Beharie as RACHEL ROBINSON
Christopher Meloni as LEO DUROCHER
Ryan Merriman as DIXIE WALKER
Lucas Black as PEE WEE REESE
Andre Holland as WENDELL SMITH
Alan Tudyk as BEN CHAPMAN
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Brian Helgeland
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Movies like “42” are always somewhat bizarre to me. I know that racism and segregation are part of our country’s ugly history, and that history isn’t really that far behind us. Also, while I believe the vast majority of Americans really don’t care about the color of a person’s skin, there are still plenty of people out there who harbor the nasty burden of racism and prejudice.
However, having been born in 1971, living my life in a time when this sort of practice was wholly illegal, it seem so ludicrous to have segregation for anything, be it bathrooms or baseball. Add to the fact that there are plenty of black athletes in almost every sport played in the nation, it seems like such a ridiculous premise that anyone would question the hiring of a black athlete.
But this shit happened. And as a country, we are not proud of it. It’s worth watching films like “42” to get a perspective on what things were like, no matter how ludicrous the country was acting at the time.
We get one or two inspirational sports movies each year, and they tend to follow similar patterns and push similar buttons. Much of what you see in “42” has been seen in movies like “Remember the Titans” and “Glory Road.” But that doesn’t meant the buttons that are pushed aren’t effective.
“42” tells the story of Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball when Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) signed him to his ball club. Rather than being a full-blown biopic, “42” uses the same structure as last year’s “Lincoln.” It shows a relatively short time-frame of the subject’s life, in particular, when Robinson is recruited from the Negro League and put into the white man’s game.
Focusing on his first year, “42” doesn’t follow the traditional narrative of a sports movie. It’s not about a team that needs to win a specific game or make a specific run. Rather, it presents a mosaic of the challenges that Robinson faced on and off the field, as well as those challenges of his teammates and bosses.
I’m not a Jackie Robinson historian, so I couldn’t tell you how much of this film is accurate and how much of it is artistic license. I imagine there’s a fair amount of both, but from what I’ve heard and read (which means a quick bio search on Wikipedia), things seem to be fairly accurate.
It’s a button-pusher of a movie, as these inspirational sports films usually are. But that’s okay. It makes for an entertaining and arguably educational time. There’s nothing really overtly worrisome about it for parents, with only some profanity and racially charged language earning the film a PG-13 rating.
The film is not without its flaws, of course. It does run long, with director Brian Helgeland indulging a little too much in the slo-mo shots and cheer moments. Additionally, it lays things on a bit thick at times. That is not to downplay the ire that was thrown at Robinson during his career, but some of these scenes (in particular the taunting of Phillies manager Ben Chapman, played by Alan Tudyk, as well as a moment at a Cincinnati game that is poorly ripped out of the “American History X” playbook) are handled with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
The acting is decent, though Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey is a little bit too much caricature for my tastes. However, I give him credit for playing at least a different type of grumpy old man than we’ve seen him play recently. At least he’s not trying to out-gravel Clint Eastwood in this movie.
Ultimately, the finer points of this film overshadows its flaws. In the end, “42” manages to give an uplifting spin to the more shameful moments of our country’s past.