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Wed April 17, 2013
Director: Brian Helgeland (A Knight’s Tale)
Screenplay: Helgeland (Mystic River)
Cast: Chadwick Boseman (The Kill Hole), Harrison Ford (Cowboys & Aliens)
Runtime: 128 min.
by John DeSando
Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman): “You want a player who doesn't have the guts to fight back?”
Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford): “No. I want a player who's got the guts ‘not’ to fight back.”
SAFE! Yes, 42 plays it safe, a biopic about Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) during 1945-47 when he broke the color barrier of major league baseball, the first black player in the majors since 1884.
Director/writer Brian Helgeland stays with the outlines of Robinson’s remarkable odyssey from minor to a major leaguer whose number 42 was retired for all baseball in his honor. Unfortunately, as with many sports stories about its heroes, even horses, the music swells to obtrusive heights to make sure we feel the right sense of awe at these august proceedings.
The formula goes also into Robinson’s domestic life, where scenes with his lovely wife, Rachel (Nicole Behane), are boilerplate sweet but adding almost nothing to the drama of the racism surrounding Rickey’s decision to hire Robinson for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
As the above quote signifies, Rickey is a font of wisdom. He has about all the best lines, such as this one, for another example, to Robinson: “Your enemy will be out in force. But you cannot meet him on his own low ground.”
In addition to having the best lines, Rickey also has too many with a gravitas that threatens to sink the film in solemnity. However, the action scenes in the games bring a reality that hints to me an updated documentary would be even more valuable than this docudrama. In fact, all the period pieces from Ebbets Field to the buses are exquisitely rendered, with clothes just a bit too crisp and cars a bit too clean.
But no matter—the game’s the thing, and 42 is an old-fashioned sports movie with plenty of sentiment and history to make an enjoyable few hours at the game.
John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at WCBE.org. He also appears on Fox 28’s Man Panel. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com