It only seems appropriate to write a review for “42” the day after the MLB’s Jackie Robinson Day, so here goes nothing.
For those not too keen on baseball, Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) was the first African American baseball player to make it out of the negro leagues and into major league baseball. On top of his great athleticism, he was able to join the Brooklyn Dodgers through the help of baseball executive Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford). Considering it was 1945 when Robinson joined the Montreal Royals, you can imagine how well a black man was welcomed into white baseball.
Although the film is mostly about Robinson, the color barrier itself is more of the topic the film wants to express. As the early line in the film goes, “I don’t know who he is. I don’t know where he is. But he’s coming.” The black man’s appearance in professional sports was an inevitable event. All that was needed was the right man to step forward and be first.
The challenges Robinson faces in the film are very believable given the time period and based on the accounts given by those that lived during the time, the film is quite honest about the degree of hatred he faced on and off the field. The people screaming vulgarities from the stands and the more subtle inequality seems so far removed from today’s world that the film almost comes across as stereotypical. It’s certainly a sign of how far the country has come, though we may have far to go.
Going into the film, I had never seen a performance by Chadwick Boseman. Now that I’ve seen his portrayal of Robinson, I don’t plan on missing another one. For an actor known mostly as guest characters on shows like “Fringe” and “Justified,” Boseman was surprisingly authentic as the ballplayer. On top of the usual pressure faced from playing a historical figure, Robinson is written in the film as more of a reserved role (mostly due to Rickey’s request that Robinson keep his cool around racists). Perhaps Boseman can help Hollywood fill the ever-present void of black mainstream actors.
Robinson and Boseman may technically be the stars of the film, but Harrison Ford is by far the most enjoyable aspect of “42.” The veteran actor sports a slick haircut and big cigar for most of the film, often giving speeches that sound more like sermons. Robinson may stay calm and collected, but nobody’s keeping the baritone-voiced Rickey from speaking his mind. Ford almost chews the scenery a little too much, but I would consider him the year’s first Best Supporting Actor contender.
Sports movies often fall into the trap of becoming overly cheesy by force feeding the audience inspirational messages, but this film avoids this by focusing more on the story of Robinson than his team reaching an unbelievable goal. While dodging this bullet, though, the film loses some of its luster by stepping away from the magic.
When it comes to films about sports, baseball is often king. From classics like “The Natural” to comedies along the lines of “Major League” and others, there is a great collection to be found. Despite being a well put together film, I’m not sure where “42” fits into that collection. It’s funny, not hilarious. Dramatic, but not gripping. It’s just a pretty good movie (and that’s perfectly okay).
“42” plays as more of a history lesson than powerful filmmaking, but it’s an enjoyable time that teaches a new generation about one of the best, and most important, athletes in American history.