SCORE: 2 stars (out of 4)
The movie 42 shows how back in 1947, Jackie Robinson changed a nation by facing overwhelming prejudice to shatter boundaries on the baseball diamond. With grace and skill, he proved that players with women’s names could do just as well as those with traditional dudes’ monikers.
Without Robinson’s trailblazing efforts, perhaps greats such as Minnie Minoso, Sandy Koufax, Gabby Hartnett and Nolan Ryan, (whose first name, I swear to you, is actually Lynn), might never have had the courage to pursue their dream.
As the movie tells it, Robinson engaged opposing pitchers in trite debates about whether or not he belonged on the field, before proving his worth with his extraordinary ability to get either walked or beaned in the head, then stealing every base to help the Brooklyn Dodgers win every game they played that season. Sometimes, when Robinson was tired and just wanted to get over with it and get back to the dugout to exchange stink-eyes with the team’s racists, he hit home runs while background orchestras played and he looked lovingly at his wife in the stands.
Robinson did more for dudes with female names’ rights than any politician or activist. It’s no wonder that every Major League team retired his jersey number, which was… Huh. Can’t seem to recall.
The movie is to be commended for the tirelessly accurate way it pays tribute to Robinson’s on and off-field trials. There’s also some subtle symbolism going on. Remember John C. McGinley, the sexist doctor from Scrubs who would always belittle Zach Braff’s character by calling him female names? The film turns that concept on its head by making McGinley play breathless Dodgers announcer Red Barber, who chronicles Robinson’s never-to-be-matched 1.000 batting average, 14 million bases on balls, 42 million stolen bases and 12 home runs. Each and every one of which the movie shows.
While Robinson’s story is worthy of respect and admiration, writer director Brian Helgeland shows conclusively that even a great man’s life can be incredibly repetitive and boring. The movie can find no other conflict or resolution than Robinson getting treated like crap, then proceeding to play such incredibly great baseball that it’s accompanied by extremely loud trumpet swells.
Like many a baseball game, the film is two-plus hours of monotony peppered with a few memorable thrills. Chadwick Boseman, as Jackie Robinson, does an excellent job of playing a man with a female name. One might argue, in fact, that Boseman does a better job of playing Robinson than Robinson himself did playing himself in The Jackie Robinson Story back in 1950.
Also, Harrison Ford does a solid job as Dodgers executive Branch Rickey, who, as baseball historians love to note, showed incredible bravery in bringing Robinson into the Majors. Poor Rickey had to sit there and watch as Robinson got hit in the head, spiked on the base paths and shunned in the locker room. Having to watch that must have made Rickey incredibly sad, even as he counted mounds of cash that Robinson made him, and Ford does a good job of conveying the plight of an incredibly rich, old man who watches stuff happen while wearing a poker face.
All in all, 42 isn’t quite up to the standards of the other movies in the series, 1 through 41. One can only hope that the inevitable sequel, 43, will be up to the task to return the franchise to its former glory.
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, John C. McGinley, Christopher Meloni, Lucas Black, Hamish Linklater and Nicole Behari. Written and directed by Brian Helgeland. 126 minutes. Rated PG-13.