“In a game divided by color, he made us see greatness.”
Director: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, T.R. Knight, Harrison Ford
Synopsis: The story of Jackie Robinson from his signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in 1945 to his historic 1947 rookie season when he broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball.
The problem with movies like Brian Helgeland’s 42, which recounts the obstacles overcome by Jackie Robinson to become America’s first black Major League baseball player, is that too often the story becomes more about the racial and political implications of its subject’s endeavours than about the man himself. Of course, a film which ignored those implications would be fatally incomplete, but it seems that filmmakers regularly struggle to find a balance, leaving us knowing a lot about what happened to a person about whom we don’t really know a lot.
Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) is plucked from the negro leagues by crusty old Dodgers boss, Branch Rickey, who is played by Harrison Ford (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Air Force One) straying as far as he possibly can from his action hero persona. Wearing a bulbous fake nose and pork-pie hat, Ford looks like a poor impression of W. C. Fields without the distinctive speech pattern, and while inhabiting the part completely, the disparity of this role compared to those that have gone before is a constant distraction from the otherwise reasonable quality of his performance. Although Rickey warns Robinson of the racism and media attention that awaits him, the young man finds his patience tested to the limit, in particular when he comes up against a vocally racist Phillies manager (Alan Tudyk – 3:10 to Yuma) determined to provoke a reaction.
There’s no doubting 42’s sincerity and good intentions, and on occasion it does manage to impress. The scene in which previously antagonistic team-mate Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black – The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift) slings his arm across Robinson’s shoulder in defiance of the hostility of a racist crowd stands out as an example of the kind of emotion a subject as inflammatory as state racism should provoke, but it’s a solitary moment in a film which often feels like a composite of every other success-against-the-odds biopic you’ve ever seen. The fact that it also focuses exclusively on this period in Robinson’s life leaves Boseman struggling to flesh out a character that is inexplicably passive on all but one occasion, despite having the courage and resilience to step up to the plate – if you’ll pardon the pun – in the first place.
(Reviewed 27th April 2015)