Review: '42' takes on an epic and epochal story and doesn't blow it
Earnest, righteous, historically accurate and often entertaining, writer-director Brian Helgeland's “42” is pretty much all you could hope for in a Jackie Robinson film biography.
It's the sort of story that you find yourself hoping they don't screw up — that the baseball will be convincing, that the racism isn't watered down, that the actor playing Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) comes off as a human being, not an icon. And in those regards, “42” scores.
A brief history lesson — the narrated-over-newsreel footage context of the end of World War II — is followed by a much longer one, as we see Robinson selected to integrate baseball by Branch Rickey, the cagey old Brooklyn Dodgers general manager and president.
Rickey (Harrison Ford) hunts high and low for a black ballplayer of talent, modesty and forbearance. He needs a star who can take a lot of racist abuse from fans, players, umpires and others. Robinson, a four-sport athlete at UCLA and star of the Kansas City Monarchs, fit the bill.
Helgeland, an Oscar-winning screenwriter (“L.A. Confidential”) and skilled storyteller (“Mystic River”), provides his cleverest touches in the ways he makes Robinson's story resonate today. The California native had bristled at Southern segregation while in the Army. Helgeland plays up the racial threats Robinson received in spring training at Sanford, Fla.
He shows us a grand arc among the players, many of whom signed a petition to keep Robinson off the Dodgers. They witness the racism of opponents, fans and others.
Boseman, the center of it all, makes for a rather stoic-and-bland Robinson, which was what Rickey was shooting for but which doesn't do the movie any favors in the spark department.
Alan Tudyk gives a spittle-spewing racist vent to Phillies manager Ben Chapman, and Lucas Black is absolutely perfect as the drawling star Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese, whose role in that season that changed America — 1947 — could easily have been forgotten, but which Helgeland movingly remembers.
It's the setting, the tone and the sentiment that “42” masters — the comically primitive attitudes of some of the white majority, the black fans and children inspired by Robinson's odyssey, the barriers that today's youth might be shocked to know ever existed.
And it's that affection for the game and the history that make “42” worth experiencing as a movie.
Roger Moore reviews movies for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- ‘Foxcatcher’ filmmaker Miller drawn to odd story
- Review: Witherspoon loses her vanity and herself in ‘Wild’
- Review: Wallis, Jamie and Jay Z bring ‘Annie’ back to life
- Review: This ‘Museum’ piece is as funny as a tomb
- Religious-themed mainstream movies are not always the most obvious epics
- DVD reviews: ‘This is Where I Leave You,’ ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ and ‘The Skeleton Twins’