Director and screenplay writer Brian Helgeland brings a new perspective to the remarkable story of Jackie Robinson, an African-American baseball player who endured the greatest test of character and the hardships of integrating the world of Major League Baseball in the 1940s, in the movie “42.”
It’s worth mentioning that this was the first time I have ever attended a movie that had the crowd giving the main character a standing ovation. Mind you, it was a packed theater.
The movie begins with an opening narration of the beginning stages to the story of Jackie Robinson (played by Chadwick Boseman) by Wendell Smith (Andre Holland), a black weekly sportswriter who later befriends and aides Robinson. The audience then gets their first glimpse at Robinson’s skills and flashy base-running abilities during a baseball game as a member of the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues.
At the same time as the game, in Brooklyn, New York, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ general manager Branch Rickey, played by Harrison Ford, discusses with a couple members of his staff about the potential of signing an African-American ballplayer to the Dodgers. Subsequently, after going through the files of Negro League players, the three decide Robinson is a man strong willed enough for the job.
Robinson is soon injected into the Dodgers farm team, the Montreal Royals, and must contend with constant ridicule from fans and teammates, and use will power to refrain from retaliation. Continually tested, Robinson eventually starts his first major league game for the Dodgers April 15, 1947 (now known as Jackie Robinson Day), breaking the color barrier and becoming a monumental component in the civil-rights movement.
This film does a quality job of honoring and memorializing the legacy Robinson has created. Also, the dramatic sequences, particularly one involving notorious Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk), who verbally abuses Robinson with extreme repeated uses of the “N word” and other demeaning slander, produce genuine sympathy and a great representation of a segregated America.
Having few in-game sequences, the film spends more time developing the relationships between players off the field, which is reasonable considering the social injustices this film tries to depict.
Even though this film has had opening box office success and received the coveted A+ CinemaScore rating, I have to give it 3.5 out of 5. I wanted this to be a much more dramatic film like “Moneyball,” but instead I got an unoriginal, overly sensationalized tribute movie with awkward comedic sequences.
It would be a bit of a stretch to see “42” get any Oscar nominations, however actors Boseman and Ford could certainly see themselves in the running come late December.