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Friday, April 19, 2013

Movie Review: 42

The movie 42 debuted a week ago.  Unlike real movie critics, I don't get advanced copies of movies so that I can have reviews published in time for opening night.  I finally got to see 42 this week.  And, it was worth the wait.

Despite the title, this movie is as much about Branch Rickey and the Brooklyn Dodgers navigating the tempestuous season of 1947 as it is about Jackie Robinson himself.  I've heard some critics complain about that fact, but I see this as a strength of the movie.  MLB rightly honors Jackie Robinson every April when all players where his number instead of their own on their jersey.  But, Robinson's appearance in that particular time and place would not have been possible without the dedication, vision and religious beliefs of Rickey.  In fact, as the film portrays, it was Robinson's strength of character and shared religious beliefs that caused Rickey to choose this particular player for an invitation to spring training in 1946.  And, the impact Robinson had on his Dodgers' team mates and front office is also worthy of examination.

(Rights belong to Warner Brothers)
Another positive aspect of the film is the portrayal of Robinson as a husband and a father.  The movie could easily have focused exclusively on Robinson's magnificent career on the field.  But, instead, director Brian Helgeland takes the time to show us the importance of Robinson's marriage as he struggled through the racial tensions.  There is also a meaningful scene where Robinson talks about the kind of father he wants to be for his boy.  I am glad Helgeland went this route because it is these aspects of Robinson's life that make him truly worthy of our admiration six decades later.

As far as the filmmaking goes, the movie is very stylized.  Similar to Eight Men Out in this respect, this seems to be done intentionally to capture the era in which the film is set.  Despite this, there are a couple of strong performances from the actors in 42.  Chadwick Boseman makes his debut in a starring role as Jackie Robinson.  Boseman delivers a strong and complex performance.  He ranges from funny to furious.  And, physically, Boseman is quite believable in the role of the ultra-athletic Robinson.  Harrison Ford stepped out of his comfort zone a bit to play the deeply religious and elderly Branch Rickey.  And, Nicole Beharie was fantastic in the important supporting role of Rachel Robinson.  The editing and cinematography in the game sequences is well done, and the soundtrack is quite fun.

To sum it up, 42 might not have lived up to the hopes and dreams of social activists or baseball historians.  But, 42 is a movie about men who are admirable in their personal and professional lives.  It is uplifting, and it is entertaining.  And that cannot be said about many movies these days.


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