’42’ Movie Review – Inspiring and Mostly True
One of America’s greatest pastimes was baseball. I say “was” because baseball isn’t enduring it’s best times right now. Besides being overshadowed by more exciting sports, the game has been plagued by widespread steroid use. Still, there is a certain nostalgia that baseball brings with it, and Brian Helgeland’s Jackie Robinson biopic 42 couples this nostalgia with one of baseball’s most important players. Robinson was more than just an important baseball player; he was an important citizen that helped a nation overcome some of its darkest days. The biopic itself isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly inspirational enough to warrant its existence.
For those that don’t know, Jackie Robinson (played here by Chadwick Boseman) was the first African-American player to break the Major League Baseball color barrier. He started out in the Brooklyn Dodgers’ farm system with the Montreal Royals. After a lot of success in the minor leagues, he was eventually promoted to the majors in 1947.
Up to this point, it wasn’t against the rules to have African-Americans on their teams. However, much like bunting to break up a no-hitter, it was considered an unwritten rule.
Although he was undoubtedly a fantastic ballplayer, Robinson was met with plenty of racism – from fans, his opponents, and even his own team. Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), a Dodgers executive, was the man who orchestrated and paved the way for Robinson’s debut.
For a film apparently about Robinson (he wore the number “42”), Rickey shares just as much story. He even has the biggest character reveal.
As far as acting goes, Boseman and Ford both turn in fantastic performances. Boseman is relatively unknown, but he was perfectly balanced between courageous and temperamental. Ford has the flashier performance, though, because he transforms both physically and vocally.
To my limited knowledge on the subject, 42 does a pretty good job of sticking to the facts. There are direct lines that transfer over from real life to the big screen. And while it’s not 100% perfect, it does pass the test. Even the most powerful scene – one involving a particularly nasty exchange with Phillies manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) – is at least partially true.
Although it’s ultimately predictable (most know who Jackie Robinson is), the movie still succeeds in being thoroughly inspirational. For some fans, it’ll be a bit of a history lesson. For most, it’ll be an inspiring look at change (for the better) in American society. Although we’ve come a long way as a society, it’s storytelling like this that could help us continue to eliminate prejudice. This could even transcend race. As far as motives go, 42 seems to have its heart in the right place.
That doesn’t mean the movie is 100% perfect. Part of the issues arise from a need to make it over-dramatic. I know I just said it was inspirational and can produce change. However, there are some undeniably cliché moments, including pretty much any moment involving the children. It’s hard to look at these moments and not think they’re a little too preachy.
To me, this preachiness is epitomized by the opening prologue. Comparing it to last year’s Lincoln, I think 42 could’ve given us a cold-open and that’d have been sufficient. Instead, it starts with a very pointed historical background. Skip the first five minutes, throw us into a Negro League baseball game and it’d be much more powerful. It’s especially annoying when a voiceover or narration starts a movie then disappears forever.
Brian Helgeland’s baseball biopic 42 should be taken for what it is trying to be. It’s supposed to be a historical look at the challenges that both Jackie Robinson and America faced when African-Americans tried to overcome blatant racism. If you want to get technical (like I’ve done), there are aspects of the film to pick apart. However, in the end, it’s undeniably inspirational and accurate. Mission accomplished.
42 is available in wide release. Check your local listings to see when and where it plays near you.
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