Nate's Grade: B-
Feeling the need to make history, and tired of prejudice, Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey decides to integrate the world of Major League Baseball by breaking baseball's infamous color line, and hiring a black man to play in the majors. That man is Jackie Robinson- a former serviceman and star of the Negro leagues who not only has the guts to take a stand, but the skills on the diamond to back it up.
Robinson first did a year with the Dodgers's minor league affiliate in Montreal, and, despite some problems with racism, ultimately proved his worth enough to earn a spot on the Dodgers roster for their 1947 season. The film depicts the trials and tribulations faced by both Rickey and Robinson for their history making, but thankfully it's not one sided in the sense of having no one else support them, nor is it too pandering, sappy or sentimental.
Don't get me wrong.This is a triumphant, feel good movie in the classic sense, and it does get sentimental and cliched at times, but in the end, it proves rather sensible, and ultimately does justice to the story, even if, as a film, it proves merely serviceable as a biopic, as it tends to stick to convention and formula most of the time.
That's not necessarily a bad thing though, as sticking to the formula often works, especially if the film also offers up something like stylistic flourish or acting to help set it apart.
And for the most part, that applies here. Harrison Ford is suitably grumpy as the steely Rickey, and CHadwick Boseman nails Robinson, practically to a tee. I don't know if he'll necessarily have a career beyond this, but he at least delivers some solid work here, and finds a nice balance with conveying the tough situation Robinson found himself in.
The film isn't really about baseball, but the sequences where games are recreated are well done. The period details are likewise decent, and, despite the PG-13 rating, the film does get the darker side of the story across just fine. In fact, I actually felt more uncomfortable watching the most overt scenes of racism here than I did while watching Django Unchained...make of that what you will.
The supporting cast are fine, though many just fade into the background. I think John C. McGinely should have been used more though as the announcer, as he was pretty good. The real scene stealer of the supporters though, has to be Alan Tudyk as Ben Chapman- the uber hateful racist manager of the Phillies. It was his scenes where I really cringed due to how unnecessarily hateful his character was to Robinson, and not due to his baseball skills, but because of his skin color.
Even though this film isn't the most memorable or noteworthy biopic, it is nevertheless a stirring, entertaining, and heartwarming film about perseverance, acceptance, and having the courage to stand up for what's right.
Great Film! The film is a true inspirational story of how a baseball player helped change a sport, and how sport can change a country. Despite it's cliché moments, this film has a charm to it that makes it so beloved. I felt the film was done well with good directing by Brian Helgeland who also wrote the screenplay. He let his cast act and it shows in their performances. I liked Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson. Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey. Nicole Behanie as Rachel Robinson, and Andre Holland as Wendell Smith. These four were real standouts and I just enjoyed watching them do their roles."42" for me was a powerful and superb film that everyone should see, even if you are not a baseball fan. It looks at a period in our country where stupidity was running amuck in not treating people with respect, fairness, and looking at their color first. Two men started something that would change our lives for the better and thank God for that! Its my hope that 42 film will educate and inspire this generation and the next and that "42" won't become lost amongst the Sports film or bio-pic movie genre.
In 1946, Jackie Robinson is a Negro League baseball player who never takes racism lying down. Branch Rickey is a Major League team executive with a bold idea. To that end, Rickey recruits Robinson to break the unspoken color line as the first modern African American Major League player. As both anticipate, this proves a major challenge for Robinson and his family as they endure unrelenting racist hostility on and off the field, from player and fan alike. As Jackie struggles against his nature to endure such abuse without complaint, he finds allies and hope where he least expects it.
Not until Robinson's breakdown in the tunnel does the film "get real," so to speak. Robinson faces more racism but gradually shows his strength, and the film finally gets around to Branch Rickey's reasons for bringing a black man into the sport's white hallowed halls. Robinson is unsatisfied with the propagandistic "we must triumph over racism" reason, as well as the missing-the-forest-for-the-tree "you're a fine young man" reason, but he is satisfied with Rickey's "I won't stand for unfair treatment of talent in the game I love" reason. It seems the most honest, and I can't say I'm quite satisfied with it, but the film seems satisfied with it, so that's fair.
Chadwick Boseman is charismatic and athletic with great gravitas. The editing of Harrison Ford is uneven. Sometimes, I couldn't tell it was Ford, but other times, I could, and it wasn't great. Newcomer Nicole Beharie as Rachel Robinson embodies grace under pressure, and she reminds me of Kerry Washington in "Ray" - a supportive wife character, full of goodness and light, but not lacking in personality.
Jackie Robinson is an unquestioned American hero, and that is the sum total of this film. So my objection to the film is not based upon its thesis but based upon its reification of its hero to the point where every scene pounds Robinson's greatness into its audience's heads. Contrast this film with 61* wherein we also learn to reify Roger Maris but because we get to know him and his struggles intimately. There is only one scene -- the best scene in the film -- where Chadwick Boseman gets to do more than stand majestically as the low-angle camera makes him seem like a giant among men, and in that scene, taking place in the tunnel beneath the Dodger dugout, we finally get to see racism's toll and Robinson's strength as he overcomes his weakness. I wish they had more of those scenes and cut out the fucking children (yes, Robinson was an inspirational figure, but lack of restraint turns this into a Lifetime movie).
Here is a fast word about patriotism: there are three majestic shots of an American flag and an extended rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. There is a reaction shot of Robinson's face, and in it one can mostly read placidity. However, one should be able to read disdain. Robinson was not a patriot, though revisionist history likes to make him out as one. He recognized Branch Rickey's courage and revered the man like a father, but he did not revere the country that forced him into the role of second-class citizen. I can't say with certainty that this film continues the myth of Robinson the patriot, but it doesn't do anything to dispel it.
Harrison Ford is very good, adopting a gravelly voice and a no-bullshit demeanor; there were times when Ford is nearly unrecognizable. The best performance, however, is by John C. McGinley in the thankless role of the radio broadcaster. McGinley gets the voice, cadence, mannerisms, and prose perfectly. I almost wished I could just listen to him call the games.
The art direction is good. They got the Polo Grounds perfectly. Crosley Field and Ebbets Field were also well done with very few errors.
Overall, this film is disappointing because it fails to take risks and does little to help us understand Robinson the man.
PS: Yogi Berra tagged him out in '55.
Even though I am giving this film a recommendation, maybe the best way to describe it would be with the term "hokey entertainment". From the initial sappy score, to some cringe inducing dialogue along the way, at first glance "42" would seem like something you could see on ABC Family during Black History Month.
Not to say "42" isn't entertaining because it is, but do I think a movie about Jackie Robinson should have been this tame? The answer is a resounding no! And therein lies the problem. I'm no historian, but in a movie concerning integration in the 40's, it is nothing less than a distracting inaccuracy (which took me completely out of this film multiple times) when at no point did I fear for Robinson's life. Therefore, I don't think I'm making a grand leap in saying that some of the more graphic material was Disney'd up, in order to make "42" a movie for the whole family. In short, the stakes here are disappointingly low for this type of material. On the other hand, I saw a Meet the Press interview with Jackie Robinson's wife, who claimed that she loved the movie because of its "authenticity".
That said, throughout this overlong film there are flashes of sheer compelling grittiness, which act like shining beacons of a movie I wished this could have been.
The Acting: The acting from the two leads is pretty impressive for different reasons. Virtual unknown Chadwick Boseman (who plays Jackie Robinson) is exceptionally good here, demanding attention whenever he is on screen. I am very excited to see what the future holds for him. As for Harrison Ford, he devours the scenery with his portrayal of Branch Rickey, in his most intriguing performance since "Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade". Oh, and I should make mention that John C. McGinley plays Red Barber (the Brooklyn Dodgers radio broadcaster at the time) and is part of undoubtedly one of the funniest comic bits this side of "Best in Show".
Helgeland's Direction: There is really nothing special looking in "42" when focusing on scenes where characters are sitting around chatting. But EVERY SINGLE scene on the baseball field will have audiences on the edge of their seats. The way the camera follows Boseman as he runs the base path is a technique I've never seen before.
But, when I speak of "grittiness", I am definitely speaking of a few scenes in particular. The most prominent being the heckling scene where the Phillies manager, played with gusto by Alan Tudyk, showers Jackie Robinson with "N-bombs", as Robinson stands in the batter's box during a game. This is essentially the best sequence of the film, because it is one of the only scenes which transcends the hokeyness; giving audiences a cold dose of realism. Too bad scenes like this were so few and far between.
Final Thought: In the end, I wanted a pre-African American civil rights movement movie with more bite (or maybe one directed by Spike Lee) and instead I got something that while not forgettable, is no "Malcolm X". On the other hand, I wasn't bored like I was during "Red Tails" or offended like I was throughout "The Blind Side".
Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland
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