Jackie Robinson biopic is a minor take on a major story. 

Jackie Robinson's is one of the great stories in modern American culture. Born a sharecropper's son, Robinson became a multi-sport star at UCLA and an Army man before being discharged for refusing to move to the back of a bus. He was a Negro Leagues baseball star before breaking the color barrier for the National League's Brooklyn Dodgers, suffering all measure of abuse with strength and dignity on the way to becoming one of the most significant figures in the history of America's civil rights movement. Oh, and he happened to be one of the greatest players to play his country's signature sport.

It's a rich story that deserves commensurate film treatment. It deserves the epic take that Spike Lee longed to give it at his Do the Right Thing/Malcolm X peak — full of energy and detail and politics and subjectivity. It deserves the filmmaking acumen and high-wattage cast that Michael Mann brought to the flawed but considerable Ali.

Instead, in the form of 42, from writer-director Brian Helgeland, the Robinson story takes the form of a conventional inspirational sports movie, just barely a step up from the likes of Glory Road or We Are Marshall. 42 (the film's title refers to Robinson's uniform number) puts just a bit too much of a halo on Robinson, underscored by the presence of a prayerful schoolboy fan who tracks his hero's spring-training debut. The supporting performances rarely rise above acceptable into the memorable range. And the exterior scenes, in particular, have the lightly CGI'd look of painted postcards — though the in-game scenes feel more credible than most.

Harrison Ford plays Branch Rickey, the Dodgers executive who famously recruited Robinson. Ford's hammy performance is cringeworthy on first contact but becomes more agreeable the longer you live with it. As Robinson, Chadwick Boseman is neither beacon nor albatross. He looks the part on the field more than most actors and holds his own off it but doesn't quite elevate the middling material.

Given the limitations here, the film makes a good decision in balancing its use of Ford's Rickey as an audience stand-in with Wendall Smith (Andre Holland), a young black journalist who befriends and chronicles Robinson.

And, while one scene where white reporters mock a colleague's press-box racism feels anachronistic, the film doesn't always flinch from the environment Robinson confronted. Philadelphia Phillies' manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) subjects Robinson to lengthy verbal abuse. And the strongest scene happens in Cincinnati, where the film has the steeliness to give us a little Norman Rockwell-esque scene of a father and son in the stands, anticipating the game, only for this all-American duo to both shout racial epithets the moment Robinson takes the field. It pulls back further to suggest the fans are relatives of Dodgers' shortstop Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black), who puts his arm around Robinson and explains, "I got family up there from Louisville. I need them to know. I need them to know who I am."

After a recruitment and tryout prelude, the film covers only Robinson's breakthrough rookie season, but even at 128 minutes across a relatively tight time frame, the film feels slight. It's a worthwhile primer on an essential American story, but it leaves you wanting more and better.

42
Now playing
Multiple locations

42
Rated PG-13 · 128 min. · 2013
Official Site: 42movie.warnerbros.com
Director: Brian Helgeland
Writer: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Harrison Ford, Chadwick Boseman, Nicole Beharie, Christopher Meloni, Ryan Merriman, Lucas Black, Andre Holland, Alan Tudyk, Hamish Linklater and T.R. Knight

Trailer


Now Playing

Sorry there are no upcoming showtimes for 42

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
    • Moana

      Disney goes Polynesian!
    • Moonlight

      Director Barry Jenkins creates a rapturous trip through a tragic young life.
    • Inferno

      Tom Hanks, Your Country Needs You

Blogs

Fly On The Wall Blog

Tony Allen's Big D Beats Stiff Competition

Intermission Impossible

Naughty & Nice: What's on Stage this Christmas?

News Blog

Etsy Declares Memphis an "Official Maker City"

Politics Beat Blog

Rep. Ellison, Frontrunner in DNC Race, to be Honored Here

Politics Beat Blog

Cohen Introduces Amendment to Scrap Electoral College

Hungry Memphis

Long Road Cider Opening this Weekend

Intermission Impossible

Three Questions with "Santaland Diaries" Star Jonathan Christian

ADVERTISEMENT

More by Chris Herrington

  • Last Words

    In "Enough Said," James Gandolfini makes his last lead film role his best.
    • Sep 26, 2013
  • Masters of Sound

    New albums from two of Memphis’ most distinctive stylists.
    • Sep 19, 2013
  • Hayes Carll at the Hi-Tone

    • Sep 19, 2013
  • More »

Readers also liked…

ADVERTISEMENT
© 1996-2016

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation