daniel cohen slides into home with the #1 movie in America …
Plot: The story of Jackie Robinson’s (Chadwick Boseman) first year in Major League Baseball as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, and the scrutiny he faced in becoming the first African-American professional baseball player.
Much like a real baseball game, 42 has it’s moments, but it’s pretty uneventful as it meanders along through it’s 2 hour plus run-time. And while it’s impossible to dislike the subject matter, this works both in the movie’s favor, and against it. Even though you want to see the legend of Jackie Robinson unfold, it’s such a well known story that we’re almost left wondering, ‘did we really need to see this?’ But at the end of the day, there’s probably a much better Jackie Robinson movie waiting to be made, but this one’s okay.
The first fifteen minutes were pretty bad. It does not open well. We begin with a narration by the main sports writer of the film, Wendell Smith, played by Andre Holland whose performance I did not like. He has this look of awe in every scene he’s in. We get it, Jackie Robinson is changing history, but can you try to have some type of other emotion please? But it’s his opening monologue that turned me off from the start. It screamed ‘TV movie’ in both the way it was written and delivered.
But after this montage, it got worse. The next scene we are introduced to Branch Rickey, executive of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and played by Harrison Ford. His dialogue is so on-the-nose and hackneyed, I started cringing. His first line of dialogue to begin the film is basically ‘I’m going to bring a black man in to play for the Dodgers.’ Okay, a good script doesn’t just flat out state the premise. As far as Ford’s performance goes, it was horribly over the top at first, sort of Tommy Lee Jones/Lincoln-esque, but it wasn’t his fault. The dialogue is absolutely putrid. But as the movie went on, Ford’s performance settled in, and it’s actually pretty damn good. The relationship between Rickey and Jackie really is the heart of the film.
And speaking of Jackie Robinson, he’s in this movie too. he actor who plays him is a relative unknown, Chadwick Boseman. Unfortunately, Boseman doesn’t get to do a hell of a whole lot, as the character is vastly underwritten. Jackie is just kind of there most of the time. There is definitely nothing wrong from a performance standpoint though. When Boseman needs to be great, he is.
I wish there were more opportunities for Boseman to shine. One of the biggest flaws with this movie is how cliche it’s subject matter is presented. Racism is obviously at the core of the film, and they handle it fine, but you get the typical scenes we’ve seen hundreds of times before. Jackie is denied a bathroom and has to stand strong. Him and his wife Rachel (Nicole Beharie) argue about their plane tickets being given away because of their skin color, and so on and so on. Films like Remember the Titans have handled this subject matter a lot better, and with a lot more originality.
The film isn’t without a few triumphant moments though. The best scene is when an opposing manager (Alan Tudyk) from the Phillies is just relentless during one of Jackie’s at bats. Jackie has to hold in his anger, and there was finally some true tension brought into the movie. Boseman’s reaction afterwards is absolutely riveting, and very well-acted.
There were scenes without Jackie though that also really stood out. Harrison Ford has them in bunches, as his character is bombarded even more so then Jackie. But one of the best scenes in the film is when Dodgers manager Leo Durocher, played wonderfully by Christopher Meloni, has to set his team straight that Jackie is playing with them whether they like it or not.
What also really saved this film was all the baseball stuff. Whenever there’s pure baseball moments like Jackie attempting to steal a base, or having an intense at bat, it’s all brilliant, and filmed exceptionally well. In fact, I wished this movie focused a lot more on baseball itself instead of just dancing around it.
Brian Helgeland both wrote and directed 42, and while there’s nothing wrong from a direction standpoint, the script is pretty much a mess. He had no idea where to end it. In the last five minutes, they have to over compensate with overly dramatic music to let you know it’s about to end. There is no build up to an ending whatsoever.
42 is slow, poorly written at times, and kind of boring … but despite all that, I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was a crowd pleaser. But with a tighter script, it could have been something really great.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10 (Slightly Better than ‘meh’)