It’s hopelessly formulaic in every possible way, but “42” still strikes with enough charm, character and heart to be a worthy addition to Cooperstown’s movie rack.
We all know the tale of the heroic and legendary Jackie Robinson, the brave and courageous African American baseball player who broke the MLB’s color barrier in 1947. His innovations were unique and his legacy is unbreakable. He isn’t an outlandish or controversial character like Muhammad Ali, so his tale is easy to portray on screen with little interruption. And even though all the pieces were already in place for a successful film, “42” still met the prerequisites and made the unexpected leap into great baseball film territory.
“42” opens with the stern but wise Dodger’s GM Branch Rickley (Harrison Ford) telling his staff how it’s necessary to have a black baseball player on their team to reign in the dough. We’re then introduced to Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), a talented but hot-headed short stop in the minor leagues who has a remarkable penchant for base-stealing and speaking his mind. Rickley brings in Jackie, Jackie is hesitant, but ultimately agrees to playing for the Dodgers organization.
But of course this is the 1940’s, well before any leaps were made into the Civil Rights movement and racism was widely accepted and rarely questioned. So Jackie is met with barrages of n-word slinging and white intolerance, making his ultimate struggle to keep quiet greater than keeping a high batting average. Jackie is ultimately up to the task, but nearly breaks down when the racial pressure becomes too great.
It is an interesting and iconic story, and “42” portrays it well enough to be an entertaining film. There really is no stand-out portion or moment of 42: Boseman’s performance as Jackie is accurate and passionate but not amazing, Ford’s portrayal as Rickley is tight and disciplined but not extraordinary, and the script’s quick movement and Brian Helgeland’s delicate direction are great additions but nothing exemplary on their own. But “42” is ultimately a team effort, and all involved bring enough of their A-game so the film hits home even without an MVP.
It’s a classic story, and there won’t be anything surprising to baseball diehards or casual moviegoers in terms story or character. Yet even the most familiar tales are still our favorites, and “42” is still strong enough to swing for the fences even though we only were expecting a base hit.