A heroic look at Jackie Robinson’s entrance into Major League Baseball, becoming the first African American to play in the big leagues. As he starts a family off the field, and earns the respect of a journalist and owner, he confronts confusion, fear, and most significantly, racism, wherever he goes.
Who’s in It?
Chadwick Boseman plays our charming and plagued lead, but it’s Harrison Ford as the curmudgeonly, bushy eyebrow-ed executive Branch Rickey and Christopher Meloni as his manager who loves yelling, sex, and booze, that steal scenes and warm the heart.
Not unlike an actually baseball game, 42 offers peaks of excitement and intrigue between prolonged periods of boredom and distraction while running at an interminable length. Looking to appeal to a very wide audience, it isn’t quite sure at times whether it’s a major league movie or just playing tee ball.
Branch Rickey has an idea, and though his nice suit and gruff exterior may lead you to believe he’s in it for the money, there is warmth to his voice and a twinkle in his eye that bringing the first black baseball player to the big leagues is a little more altruistic than he is letting on. We meet Robinson as a young adult, already dominating the only league he can play in – the negro league. He is talented, however, and can help Rickey win, so he brings him up.
Few in the baseball world are particularly pleased with this, while most are at best uncertain, and at worst, violently antagonistic and racist. Brian Helgeland, writer and director, shows Robinson as the pioneer and hero that he is, but is uncertain exactly how to go about doing so. Trumpets blare and his winning gait falls into slow motion every time Robinson connects with a home run to emphasize the talent side of the man, while evil stares and mindless jeering make up the other sides, both of which are simplistically reduced to well, black and white.
The issue here is that Robinson is already a legend, we don’t need to be constantly told as such so overtly, but both the adoration and hatred of him is given a reductionist treatment. There is but a lone, extended scene, one where an opposing manager relishes a barrage of hate speech, that the film nears actual tension and rage. It’s the closest it comes to scratching the surface of what life was like for Robinson, where most of the time it follows a typical, vacuous procedure.
Boseman for his part is winning and charming, showing Robinson’s internal struggle and temper when given the chance, but this is a piece of film meant to abridge and uplift. It’s safe and unthreatening, a piece of comfort entertainment not unlike having a baseball game in the background. The only difference I suppose is that sometimes actual baseball games are hard to predict.
Should You See It?
If you were alive on around the time the film takes place in the late ‘40s, or if you have a child with whom you want to share this story, yes. Otherwise, catch a real game.
In fact a bit more telling that it initially seems, when the pious Branch calls his manager in the middle of the night, he hears a female in the background. “You know, the Bible also has a lot to say about adultery.” Response: “Yeah, I bet it has a lot to say about a lot of things.”