’42′ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 15th, 2014 at 12:49 am,

42 Movie Chadwick Boseman 42 Review

42 presents plenty of challenging material, but it’s all in service of a thought-provoking and evocative Jackie Robinson movie experience.

In 42, writer/director Brian Helgeland chronicles the inspirational story of Jackie Robinson; his personal journey from the Negro leagues to whites-only Major League Baseball, which was a catalyst for desegregation in America’s favorite pastime. When General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), decides to break the unspoken MLB color barrier, he finds “the right man” in Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) – a spirited and talented ball player willing to endure a firestorm of controversy and hatred to pave the way for racial integration.

Robinson accepts the task of having “the guts not to fight back” and is faced with menacing actions from his own teammates, rival baseball players, and hordes of sports fans who consider his spot on the Brooklyn Dodgers both a disgrace to the game of baseball and an unwelcome precursor to social change. Despite threats to his wife, child, and future playing baseball, Robinson’s love for the game and talent on the field (aided by a number of key allies) ignites respect and support from fans of all backgrounds as the Dodgers chase the 1947 pennant.

42 Movie Chadwick Boseman Harrison Ford 42 Review

Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford in ’42′

Helgeland, who directed A Knight’s Tale and penned the Mystic River and L.A. Confidential screenplays, is not the first writer to turn Jackie Robinson’s triumph over racism on and off the field into a drama. Several other projects have tackled the topic before – including Broadway musical The First (1981), starring David Alan Grier, and the made-for-TV movie, Soul of the Game (1996), with Blair Underwood portraying the famous number 42. Nevertheless, Helgeland delivers a solid “based on true events” film with 42 – a sharp and uplifting modern drama with captivating performances that should appeal to baseball fans, movie lovers, and history buffs.

Chadwick Boseman (Persons Unknown) stars as Robinson – offering a smart mix of emotional drama and charm to prevent the film from becoming weighed down by the challenging subject matter. This isn’t to say Boseman artificially lightens the tone (no pun); instead, his contagious energy and excitement in Robinson’s achievements help to balance out more difficult scenes. It’s an intimate portrayal, where hard-knocks are met with rousing (and downright entertaining) payoff – successfully combining the real-life Robinson ballplayer with engaging movie drama.

That said, 42 doesn’t just cater to its primary protagonist. Unlike a lot of biopics, the film casts a wide focus, successfully implementing a number of important side characters and providing each with their own importance – such as a third act scene centered around Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black). Harrison Ford is especially engaging as Branch Rickey and is responsible for several of 42‘s best scenes. Rickey’s genuine personal investment in Robinson, plus an unabashed willingness to go toe-to-toe with naysayers, provides a fertile foundation for Harrison – especially when sharing banter with individuals who are reluctant to “change.”

42 Movie Nicole Beharie 42 Review

Nicole Beharie as Rachel Robinson in ’42′

Adding to the roster of solid performers are Nicole Beharie (Shame) as Robinson’s wife Rachel and Andre Holland (1600 Penn) as Pittsburgh Courier sportswriter, Wendell Smith – along with Alan Tudyk (Firefly) in the unenviable position of portraying Philadelphia Phillies’ manager, and vocal anti-integration crusader, Ben Chapman.

In spite of solid performances and smart filmmaking choices, some elements in 42 aren’t as nuanced as others. Certain thematic ideas are presented with heavy-handed execution that, even though they are essential to the story, aren’t as successful as similar attempts in the film. Compared to the subtle inclusion of future World Series champion Ed Charles (Dusan Brown), designed to show Robinson’s influence on future generations of ball players, on-the-nose altercations between Robinson and some of his teammates – especially Kirby Higbe (Brad Beyer) – are melodramatic. In an effort to tell an inspiring narrative with tense drama, 42 often reduces real-life individuals on both sides of the controversy to caricature. As a result, the film sometimes leans on its stirring source material – instead of actually earning some key moments through gradual character development.

Similarly, Helgeland explicitly spells-out connections that most audience members would have easily made on their own – risking authenticity in an effort to hammer a specific point of view or ethical juxtaposition. In many cases, 42 manages these efforts through subtle character moments and entertaining interactions, but from time to time, the film isn’t as delicate and undercuts the effectiveness of a few key plot points with staged setups. Still, few of the film’s missteps detract from the overall success of 42‘s storytelling – which, as mentioned, successfully captures the ups and downs in Jackie Robinson’s personal experiences along with the political maneuverings necessary to transform an American paragon (in this case baseball culture).

Hamish Linklater Chadwick Boseman 42 42 Review

Ralph Branca (Hamish Linklater) and Jackie Robinson in ’42′

It’s an uplifting film, relying on a blend of light-hearted humor to help overcome the darker elements, but it’s worth noting that moviegoers who are sensitive to racial slurs and hateful language may be surprised by the amount of profanity in 42. Instead of surface-level window dressing, racial slurs are implemented with care to put audiences in Robinson’s shoes – resulting in some of the film’s most biting and profound moments. Considering 42 is based on true events, it would be hard to fully capture the story without choice language, but even though Helgeland’s script is not excessive, it’s important for moviegoers – especially those who might be showing 42 to young children - to be aware of the film’s unflinching depiction of the era.

As a result, 42 presents plenty of challenging material, but it’s all in service of a thought-provoking and evocative Jackie Robinson movie experience. Some storylines and characters are more nuanced than others – but overall, the film is a multi-faceted blend of exciting baseball scenes and captivating human rights drama. Whether stealing home plate or standing tall in the face persecution, Helgeland’s Robinson is an intriguing subject – worthy of wearing the iconic number 42.

If you’re still on the fence about 42, check out the trailer below:

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42 runs 128 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including language. Now playing in theaters.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Our Rating:

4 out of 5

Follow Ben Kendrick on Twitter @benkendrick
TAGS: 42
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  1. Hardly anything to add here. Very good, but fell short of great due to dialogue & melodrama in a few scenes. Also, though HF was stellar, it took almost Half the movie for me to stop seeing him as an old Han Solo with a strange voice. I don’t think Nicole B added much to this movie. But that’s not her fault, I guess it’s the way she was written. I care about the movie, and not just in historical context, but I wasn’t moved by the character until the scene with the phillies manager. That may have been the most uncomfortable moment in the film, other than the little kid taking cues from his father on how to be racist. Overall, a very enjoyable film.

    • I should also add that the scene with Pee Wee & the scene with Rickey alone at the stadium listening to the game was a very nice touch. Some may say a little hammy or a little heavy handed, but those were respectful homages to history and I’m really glad they were done that way.

  2. If what I hear is true, I’m going to see this flick today for one primary reason:

    The third “Man Of Steel” trailer.

    From what I’ve heard, it’s mind blowing.

    • maybe it depends on what theatre you go to, but I was at an AMC in NYC yesterday and though they showed the IM3 trailer, and other Legendary \ WB trailers, I was a tad disappointed not to see any MOS trailer. even the old one would have sufficed.

      • Thanks for the heads up!

    • where did you here this? i knew it was suppose to be released in April thats all.

      • @ Trey and Random Internet Guy:

        Well, there are several MOS trailer #3 descriptions on a few other web sites. I won’t list them here because of my loyalty to Screen Rant.

        The interesting thing is that these different sources reveal the same description, which is a good thing. Supposedly the trailer is over 3 minutes in length. The footage sounds phenomenal.

        Here’s the extra good news: Henry Cavill will make an appearance on the MTV Movie awards this Sunday. Maybe Zack Snyder will be there too. I’m thinking he will.

        I suspect that Cavill (and maybe Snyder) will introduce the new trailer and maybe even some extra footage in the same way Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale did the same thing for TDKR at last year’s awards show.

        WB is finally amping up their promotion for MOS. It’s only 2 months away and I can’t get enough!

    • You’re in for disappointment, Cause the MOS Trailer won’t be released until tomorrow

  3. I am looking forward to this this weekend. The only downfall to this would probably be Spike Lee piping in on why HE should have done this movie.

    • don’t be an ass.

      • Random, ripping on a jerk like Spike Lee doesn’t constitute being an ass.

        • + 1000

  4. A movie like this, at this time of year, is personal. I grew up playing baseball.
    Robinson was my grandfather’s favorite player and made him get season tickets.
    He told me Robinson was all class and very popular with the Brooklyn Dodger fans.

    I sounds like this film does the man justice despite any unfortunate melodrama and
    caricature which I was kind of expecting but 4 stars from you Ben is always must see.

  5. The nicks, the knacks, the strains, the pains. You don’t look hurt but you always are.
    The smell of the grass, the mud in your cleats, the blinding sun in the outfield.
    The blur of the fans in the stands when time stands still before you swing.

    It all remains vivid like it happened yesterday. Along with the dreams.
    Baseball was my game. I played college ball until injuries betrayed me.
    Walking off the field was a walk away from my youth while still young.

    But I do remember baseball. It will always be a field of dreams for me.

    • I was on the fence regarding your sexual orientation until I read that. :D

      • @ Robert Palmar
        Very eloquent Rob.

        • Say, thanks Guy. very kind of you to say.

      • Well, at least I satisfied that curious curiosity :)

  6. I’m not a baseball fan, but I am a fan of MONEYBALL. When you have a story to tell and not an axe to grind, whatever the premise or theme, it’s entertainment.

    People who like movies generally like genres because there’s something trustworthy about the familiar. But they seem to like genres even more when you mess with them.

    42 is that genre of film dealing in controversy –racial controversy– but unlike DJANGO UNCHAINED, it doesn’t turn a former era of bigotry into fantasy.

    The review, here presented, make mention of peripheral ideas as part of the storyline that may not be fully synthesized into the plot. While this hasn’t kept the film from getting a 4-star rating by Screen Rant, other reviews have given the film 2 1/2 stars.

    The trailer informs the narrative while keeping the central “dispute” at bay. It feels routine (even though it’s not) and so, like MONEYBALL, I’ll see this movie on faith.

  7. A spot on review Ben! Nice job!

  8. Pretty Sure it is next week for the MOS trailer .

    • its gonna be tomorrow during the MTV video awards

  9. Jackie Robinson’s number was retired in all of Major League Baseball in
    1997 being the first athlete in any sport to be honored in that manner.

    It is altogether fitting and poetic that the last man standing to wear
    42 is the man most like Jackie, the gentleman warrior Mariano Rivera.
    And a man too worthy of entering the pantheon of all-time greatest.

  10. I found this movie to be a solid 3.5 but it missed the mark on many oppertunities. It seemed far to sugar coated and the constanct jumping around between one atbat and unecessary scenes was distracting. Besides the phillies game which was gut wrenching and hard to watch in a good way I found it to be very safe film. He struggled a lot more than the film made it seem. Great introduction to Jackie but not the whole story.

    • I’d have to say I agree with Trey. Solid, but safer (and sweeter) than I expected. I love Mark Isham, but the score pushed way too hard this time around.

      • I second the Mark Isham critique. I felt the score was manipulative and far too ‘Disneyesque” for the movie itself.

  11. Any of you marvel fans think Boseman would make a good Black Panther

    • @Conor: I Think Chadwick would make a great Black Panther. He was perfectly cast as Jackie Robinson. His portrayal of Jackie was near perfect.

  12. I appreciated the nuanced broad coverage of the other characters. Interesting to see harrison Ford in a non-action role. His moral clarity, and of Jackie, was refreshing and fit the times they were in. Just seeing a sports guy being true to his wife and her back to him is news. thought this is one of THE best life stories ever put on screen. I would highly recommend it.