42 Review

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Director Brian Helgeland and star Chadwick Boseman make 42 a better-than-average story about one of baseball’s most inspirational players of all-time. 42 isn’t a flawless sports drama that fully captures the life and times of Jackie Robinson, but it’s a fine film, led by one strong performance and anchored by countless supporting roles. The film cuts corners when it shouldn’t, but it still crosses the plate as a serviceable biopic that touches up on America’s past and how one baseball player’s courage helped change the world.

Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) is an African American baseball player playing in the 1940s. During this time African American’s weren’t allowed to play with whites, until one man by the name of Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) decided that it would be best to change the thinking of the professional sport of baseball.

What starts out strictly as a way to increase the crowd diversity, which then means more profit, soon becomes a full-fledged stand against segregation and racism. Jackie Robinson soon realizes that he’s not just changing the way of the game, but the way of the country and the way of the world.

Brian Hegleland‘s 42 is perhaps one of the better mainstream biopics in recent years. It certainly glosses over a lot of topics that it should have dealt with head-on and it also plays up the sappy score to maximize the emotions and tears for specific scenes, but it almost always feels like it’s swinging with all of its heart.

42 might only be surface-level material, revealing brief moments of struggle, instead focusing on the good that comes from teamwork, but it still feels like a valuable film. When it works it works well, but when it fails it falls hard to the ground.

Chadwick Boseman is the life and blood of the film, playing star Jackie Robinson with a careful amount of restraint and optimism. He’s not afraid to show us that Jackie is human and far from perfect, while at the same time he almost always makes Jackie feel like a walking legend. It’s a hard thing to describe, but Boseman knows exactly when to let out Jackie’s inner-feelings.

Harrison Ford doesn’t completely phone in his role as Branch Rickey, but he still hasn’t shaken off the grumpy mumbles that he’s acquired over the years. He gives Rickey more development than the trailers suggest, taking the character from one level and raising him to the next. I enjoyed seeing Ford follow the beats and reveal the characters true intentions.

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The rest of the cast is a scattered bag of talent, with some roles getting no more than five minutes of screen time, while others get much more, but aren’t really ever given anything to do with the time. Jackie certainly had a lot of friends and enemies and the film does a good job of dividing them up and showing both sides of the field, but no one character comes even close to Jackie or Rickey in terms of helping the film become more balanced.

And that’s the problem that 42 never quite overcomes. It’s all very one-sided, focusing mostly on the good and rarely hinting at the bad. I mean that by saying we rarely see Jackie have a bad day, aside from one nasty scene between him and Alan Tudyk. Everything else is just short-changed for the quick emotional reaction it’ll get from the audience, quickly followed by a positive outcome involving Jackie and his teammates.

Jackie Robinson’s real-life story is an inspirational one; one that’s very important and deserves to be told across all mediums. Unfortunately 42 isn’t too worried about showing us all of his life and only the parts that will make audience members feel good when walking out of the theater.

42 isn’t as bad as it could have been, but it’s also not as great as it should have been. Brian Helgeland directs the film with the proper look and feel of the era, despite shooting it digitally, which cripples some of the scenes, but mostly just sort of looks “okay”. The focus on Robinson and Rickey makes the minor characters suffer and also makes the overall story feel like a brushed over TV drama and not so much an extensive look at the life of Jackie Robinson.

I’d still recommend the film to fans of Robinson, baseball or just uplifting stories in general, because 42 has enough working for it to make it at the very least a good film. I liked it and thought it turned out much better than expected, but at the same time I’m probably never going to watch it again.

42 – 7/10

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