It’s funny to think that there was a time where baseball was an all white sport. Myself being from the Toronto area, I’m use to seeing players from the Dominican and other such places come and play ball in Toronto, but it was a very big deal in the 40s. So every now and again it helps to remind people of the significant of Jackie Robinson, the first Black player in Major League Baseball. The movie 42, hopes to do that.
Unlike many other sports films, 42 opens off the top with an odd caption telling us that the movie is “based upon a true story” meaning it’s not that historically accurate…and it shows.
While it would be easy for this movie to focus on the early life of Robinson, coming from a poor family in Georgia, we start this move in an office in Brooklyn.
The scene gives use our first look at then manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford). He’s an old school owner that wants to make a team that will win games and get more people to the ballpark. So he plans to hire a black baseball player and play him in the major leagues.
Much like in real life, the film tells us the main reason Rickey picks Robinson is because he’s a Methodist as well as a good ball player. This is really the only time in the movie that religion comes into play.
From there we see a young Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) explain to his wife Rachel (Nicole Behaire) that he’s been signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers’ farm team The Montreal Royals.
More or less twenty minutes later in the film we see Robinson called up to the major leagues and playing major league ball at a near perfect level.
Cause his time in the farm system wasn’t important I guess.
While I guess the image of French Canadians not caring that much about a players race followed by white southern people yelling the N-word might of make most American viewers feel weird it would have painted a more truthful picture. But as we’re told this movie is “based” upon a true story.
The movie seems to want the viewer to really focus the racism that came from not only the fans and rival teams, but his own teammates, and how he won them over.
This could have really been enforced if the movie really showed Robinson struggle with these issues. Instead he just kind of stands there and doesn’t do much outside of playing baseball.
True there is one moment of the film were Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) makes him break down after shouting the N-word 30 plus times, but for the rest of the movie he just kind of ignores it. Which doesn’t really make for the most exciting film.
While I’m not the biggest baseball historian, I do know that the only reason Robinson didn’t react to this taunts was because he promised Rickey that he wouldn’t fight for the first two years of his contract. Richey made his do this to show everyone just how good a good ballplayer was and not give them any reason to write him off as a hotheaded black player.
In this movie Robinson seems almost saint-like as he more or less shacks off the countless taunts and prods.
Another complaint I had with the movie was with its length. This film runs 128 minutes and feels a great deal longer. It isn’t helped by the fact that the script could have easily been re-written to stop this.
Without getting too much into it, the film could of shaved 15-20 minutes by pushing the character arcs forward after the Phillies part of the movie. It could of really livened up the movie.
On the positive side, this movie was cast well. While Robinson isn’t portrayed as well as he could have been that isn’t the fault of Boseman but more the writer and director, Brian Helgeland (Salt, Robin Hood). Boseman does the best he can with what’s given.
Harrison Ford seemed to be awake and really into his role this time round giving a great performance, which is almost kind of amazing.
Other standouts were Christopher Meloni (Law and Order: SVU) as one of the Dodgers managers Lou Durocher (there’s another movie to be made), Nicole Behaire (Shame) as Mrs. Robinson and John C. McGinley (Scrubs) as late-great commentator Red Barber.
While there was a lot this movie could of done better, overall 42 wasn’t a bad movie. If you’re a fan of baseball movies and/or know a lot about Robinson then this one is a solid watch. However, if you’re looking for a more historical retelling of his life then 42 is a bit lacking. Maybe watch two episodes of Ken Burns Baseball instead.
42 was written and directed by Brian Helgeland and Produced by Thomas Tull. The film was produced by Legendary Pictures and Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.