Like most recent crowd-pleasing biopics, 42 presents a series of opportunities, challenges and successes for its hero. As we saw in films about Ray Charles and Johnny Cash, and now here for Jackie Robinson, talent and determination win the day.
Jackie Robinson is played ably by Chadwick Boseman. The movie’s depiction of Robinson reveals few flaws, other than a temper. No addictions, no womanizing here. He has a wife, but few other characteristics that flesh him out as a real person, not just a ballplayer.
The story of Jackie Robinson is also the story of Branch Rickey, the white man credited with bringing Robinson to the bigs. Harrison Ford plays Rickey with restraint. Not many of those intense tirades we’ve seen in other Ford roles, but a couple of good speeches give Ford his moments to shine.
After Rickey determines that Robinson has the guts and the self-control to handle the abuse, Rickey deals with managers and players who aren’t happy that Robinson is part of their team.
Acceptance is slow in coming, but winning ballgames helps heal some of the hard feelings. Robinson leads the Dodgers to the 1947 pennant, is named Rookie of the Year and the audience leaves the theater with a warm, Hallmark Channel-like upbeat feeling.
Following Django Unchained, hearing the “n” word in a mass market film like 42 is not so shocking. I heard the word four times through the first half of the movie. But after Robinson joins the Dodgers, he hears the word many more times—mostly from Phillies manager Ben Chapman. Chapman is played by Alan Tudyk, who was Steve the Pirate in Dodgeball.
42 attempts to capture the feeling of 1946 and ’47. On some levels, that goal is achieved with the typical tools: cars, phones and costumes of the era. What the film fails to communicate is how big baseball was in those days, as compared to other amusements. The depictions of real ballparks of the era are partly successful. The film has a major anachronism with a shot of modern seating in a minor league ballpark.
42 is not a great movie, but tells its story in an entertaining enough way to click with many groups of moviegoers: men and women, white and black, baseball fans and non-fans. Like Ray and Walk the Line, 42 is destined to be a crowd-pleaser.