Craig's Movie Breakdown: "42"
on 2013-04-11 08:46
Three things to know before the movie:
1. Of the most famous athletes of all time, not many stand-out like Jackie Robinson. He changed the game of baseball, ending the segregation that relegated black players to the negroe leagues. He played in several World Series games, even winning a World Championship in 1955, and his accolades, including being inducted in the baseball hall of fame in 1962, having his number retired, and Major League Baseball’s annual tradition of “Jackie Robinson Day” were every player wears number 42, are many. “42” will actually be the first big screen motion picture about Robinson’s life since the 1950 film “The Jackie Robinson Story”, which starred the man himself. There were four other endeavors (two television movies, an after-school special, and a Broadway play) that were all done in between then and now.
2. This is not the first time Chadwick Boseman, who has far more television work on his resume than movie work with one-episode stints on shows like “Third Watch”, “Castle”, and “Fringe”, has played a historical sports figure. He played Floyd Little in the Ernie Davis (the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy) story, “The Express.”
3. A bio-pic is completely new territory for writer-director Brian Helgeland. His film work has mostly centered on violent action films (Mel Gibson’s “Payback”, Denzel Washington’s “Man on Fire” and “The Taking of Pelham 123”) and dramas (“LA Confidential”, “Mystic River”).
Believe it or not kids but there was once a time when the sport of baseball was as white as a Nascar event. So it’s not so surprising that writer-director Brian Helgeland goes after Jackie Robinson with his hero-worship canon blazing, and while every once in a while he may go overboard with the orchestra or character's making inspirational pronouncements, he also seems to know that this is the kind of story that tells itself and he gets out of the way and lets history tell it.
His film thankfully doesn’t go from birth until death, instead picking up after World War 2 where baseball is still being segregated between the Majors and the Negro leagues. That is until Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) decides there is too much talent (and money) in these black players and it’s there for the taking.
Robinson (Boseman) is playing for the Kansas City Monarchs at the time where he excels on the field but is still forced to suffer the indignity of not even being able to use a gas station bathroom because of the color of his skin. Rickey likes him because he’s a fighter (as well as a Methodist) but he also wants to know if Jackie can keep his temper in check because what is coming down the pike will test him physically as well as mentally.
Yes Jackie faces racism and bigotry of all kinds, as we expected and knew he would overcome, but no question the best scenes in “42” come when Jackie must meet face to face those who believe he doesn’t belong. During training with the Montreal Royals, he plays an exciting game of “steal-a-base” with the pitcher of an opposing team and later is forced, with the Dodgers, into a test of will with the horribly offensive manager (Alan Tudyk) of the Philadelphia Phillies. The film also makes decent points about the changing landscape of the game as well as the brotherhood of teammates.
Boseman is also terrific here, playing Jackie with a little hint of cynicism about what Rickey is actually trying to accomplish but also as a man who has a seeming comfort in himself and his abilities. Ford is equally good as Rickey, a man strong in his resolve to do something landmark, even if it means going against the beliefs of his players, managers, or the sport itself. The other characters aren’t nearly as developed but Tudyk really digs into a truly disgraceful man while John C. McGinley is very funny as a play-by-play announcer with a bunch of old-timey sayings.
“42” isn’t trying to re-invent the wheel. You’ve seen this story played out several times before but there’s a reason that they keep making movies like this. The hero-worship is basically the point, and on that score, Helgeland and Boseman each hit home-runs.