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Reviews » Theatrical Reviews » 42
Warner Bros. // PG-13 // April 12, 2013
Review by Jeff Nelson | posted April 11, 2013 | E-mail the Author
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When it comes to making a film about sports, it can go one of two ways. The narrative could either focus on the game, or it could simply use the sport as a backdrop for a deeper story. Depending upon which path a filmmaker wishes to embark on, the target audience might be a little bit different. I don't usually find myself enthralled by all-out sports flicks, but 42 explores a lot more than the game of baseball. It follows a true legend, who will always be seen as being much bigger than a bat-and-ball player. His strength changed countless people around the world. Writer/director Brian Helgeland's approach might be found to be slightly corny at times, but it ultimately gives justice to the man behind the number that will never be forgotten in the world of baseball.

42 follows the growth of Jackie Robinson's career. Under the guidance of team executive, Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), he became the first African American to play in Major League Baseball in the modern era. While Robinson simply wanted to play the game he loved, countless ignorant individuals used racism and segregation to put him down. This film explores the hard times he faced, as well as the strength that got him to the top. The decision to have Jackie Robinson join Major League Baseball was one that changed America's way of thinking. Jackie Robinson had the courage to not fight back, which allowed him to take a silent political step forward for African Americans on and off the field.

These biographical dramas always have an extremely fine line between being inspirational rather than being corny. Writer/director Brian Helgeland walks that thin line, and even slightly leans towards the tacky side towards the very beginning. It doesn't take long for Helgeland to correct his balance, which is when 42 begins to feel genuine. However, this is a Hollywood interpretation, meaning that it doesn't bother to explore Jackie Robinson himself. Instead, his rise and influence on others are the primary focus, which isn't a big issue. However, I would have liked for the picture to examine who Robinson was as a person. The majority of his emotions appear to be padlocked throughout the running time, although as someone who didn't know the story, I found it intriguing to see how he grew to become a legend from numerous perspectives. This feature explores Robinson from game to game, as he continues to face racism and segregation. However, Helgeland displays the political influence Robinson had in transforming the discriminatory minds of many people.

This motion picture also looks at the career of Branch Rickey. He set Robinson up for success. Not only did he put him on the team, but he coached him to to fight in ways that don't include actual fighting. The most tender moments found in 42 are shared between this team executive and player duo. This is the closest audiences will get with these characters through the film's duration. Helgeland decides to focus on these men as figures, rather than human beings. Towards the end, you'll find yourself craving some more of those tender sequences. In fact, Helgeland missed out on the opportunity to develop Robinson's relationship with his wife, Rachel. Unfortunately, you won't discover very much of that here. This merely scratches the surface of an incredibly intriguing subject. Sports fans will enjoy the time spent on the field, but the rest of us will be left hungry for more character development.

This is as much of a political film, as it is about sports. A large portion of 42 is devoted to the division seen between supporters and the racist baseball fans in the stands. We've all faced discrimination at some point, regardless of the color of our skin. However, very few of us have ever experienced it in ways that Jackie Robinson did. It's absolutely enraging to watch characters, such as Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk), chant such horrible things at Robinson. Unfortunately, this is something that American cinema has to touch upon. Helgeland enrages the audience, as we sit at the edge of our seats, hoping that Robinson will take the high road. Towards the end, there are a few less genuine scenes about this subject matter, which definitely stick out like a sore thumb. Those who are looking for an inspirational story have found a good one, but the ending won't please those looking for a genuine look within the changes he made.

There are a lot of familiar faces in 42, but none of it negatively affects the film. Chadwick Boseman plays Jackie Robinson very well. He's incredibly convincing through every scene, regardless of which character he's interacting with. There's a scene where Robinson goes into an emotional rage in the dugout, which Boseman executes to perfection. Harrison Ford is Branch Rickey, which surprisingly works. His presence could have easily distracted from the picture's direction, but he fits into this role very nicely. Nicole Beharie doesn't receive a lot of screen time with her performance as Rachel Robinson, although she's definitely believable. Jackie's teammates are played by a solid group of actors, and while they also receive a small amount of attention, they create a convincing supporting cast.

A movie, such as 42, would greatly benefit from being shot on film. However, Helgeland presents this story with a "high-definition" feel. While the picture looks great, it would have benefited from having a slightly aged look. The cinematography attempts to make up for this, but the digital appearance doesn't entirely fit the tone. Not a single audience member will be surprised when they hear the score. It's your typical inspirational music with trumpets and all. Regardless, Helgeland's slow-motion shots on the field work extremely well. A lot of anticipation is created through the visual aspects of the game, which will allow viewers to feel like they're on the field with Robinsion.

This isn't the sports movie to end all, but it exceeded my expectations. 42 displays how Jackie Robinson became the legend he is today, but it leaves us yearning to learn more about who he was as a human being. The balance between being genuine and being tacky is offset, at times, but when that stability comes along, you'll find this to be an enthralling look at this baseball legend. Whether or not you're a sports fan, this is worth checking out. 42 is a successful telling of Jackie Robinson's story, even though it leaves some to be desired. Recommended.

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