Valdosta Daily Times

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April 16, 2013

‘42’ hits a home run

VALDOSTA — “42” (Sports Drama: 2 hours, 8 minutes)

Starring: Harrison Ford, Chadwick Boseman, Nicole Beharie, and Christopher Meloni

Director: Brian Helgeland

Rated: PG-13 (Strong language, thematic elements and violence)

Movie Review: April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson put on his Brooklyn Dodgers number 42 uniform. He broke the Major League Baseball “color line,” becoming the first black player to grace an all-white major baseball league. This is a history-making moment, Robinson and his wife, Rachel, as played by Boseman and Beharie, must overcome the hatred that is racism. He was called plenty of awful profanities, and often faces discrimination by league members, including his own team. An often-militant Robinson manages to control his anger to become one of baseball’s greatest. 

Though “42” is about Robinson, this could easily be the Robinson/Branch Rickey story. Rickey is the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Ford plays Rickey. Rickey is the person responsible for enlisting Robinson to play in the major league.

A superb Ford and Boseman’s scenes motivate one to care for both of these gentlemen’s causes. They each have their reasons for what they are doing. Their task will not be easy, but observing them work together to achieve their goals is inspirational.      

At many moments, it is difficult to determine who the actual lead in this drama is. This is because Ford, a more seasoned actor, steals the picture. He easily makes Branch Rickey an enriching character. Ford is Oscar-worthy here.

The fault is not Boseman’s that Ford overshadows him. Ford’s Branch Rickey is just one of those shining roles. The character is just rich material ripe for the big screen. Plus, Ford is a veteran actor of the big screen.

Boseman (“The Kill Hole,” 2012) has primarily been a television actor and playwright (“Deep Azure”). In this, his third film, Boseman is relatively unknown to most movie audiences. This is good. Viewers must see him as Robinson, not a movie star.

His pairing with Beharie again is unique. They were both in 2008’s “The Express,” a film about football’s Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy. It is fitting they are teamed once more for another historical sports first. The two make a nice team, portraying the Robinsons as a very loving couple and family.

“42” moves quickly, telling just a slice of Robinson’s baseball career. It is a nice honor, even if it is a tame, soft pitch. This drama plays it safe. It just sticks to the story without letting any one aspect of the tribulations of Robinson’s life takes center stage. Instead, it tells a story without making it emotional. The plot just connects A to Z. In this sense, it is just story telling without pushing the envelope.

When the movie is over, audiences should want to see more. Robinson’s story appears incomplete. What happens next? What is his life like unconnected to baseball? Does his relationship with Rickey grow?

These questions are present because the movie is engaging, despite its docile approach. “42” is engaging because Robinsons’ story is gratifying in that anyone could visualize facing his obstacles and wanting to overcome them.

A viewer may not be a young black man in a racist era, but it is easy to see a man trying to overcome heavy burdens and want him to succeed. This screenplay easily makes one relate to Robinson. Second, the film easily makes one have sympathy for Rickey’s reasons also. This is where the film scores its best and biggest points.

Director-writer Helgeland (“Payback,” 1999) easily makes one relate to his main characters, Robinson and Rickey. When a photoplay achieves this, other discrepancies in the movie appear trivial, and audiences just see themselves in a place that needs a happy conclusion.  

Grade: B+ (42 is a homerun.)

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