42, 2013
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  MOVIE POSTER42, 2013
Movie Reviews

Director: Brian Helgeland

Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Kelley Jakle, Alan Tudyk

Review by Matthew Toffolo


The life story of Jackie Robinson and his history-making signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers under the guidance of team executive Branch Rickey.


It's 1947 and post-war America is in a state of flux, and nothing shows that more than baseball, the microcosm of America at the time. A horde of professional baseball players have returned from the shores of Europe and not just in the Major League. Players in the Negro Leagues also returned, bringing with them some of the best players in the game—Satchel Page, Josh Gibson—all dreaming of a turn in the Show. And one player who stood above all of them, Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) who would be the one to make that jump when he's offered to play as number "42" on the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Jackie Robinson's story has been one of THE inspirational stories of not just baseball but of 20th Century America, featuring one of the few great men who recognized the moment he was in and lived up to it, playing not just the best baseball of his life but doing so in spite of the vitriol and bile thrown his way. Hatefulness he never raised a fist to on the field. It was the only way baseball could have been integrated at the time and he was the right person in the right place at the right time to do it.

On the one hand it's a wonder Brian Helgeland's ("Payback, A Knight's Tale") big screen retelling of Robinson's accomplishment has never been made before. Studios eat up 'inspiration' like this, and sometimes audiences do, too.

With all the time that has passed and the weight of history behind it Helgeland has chosen to be extremely careful with his material, choosing to ignore the call of the biography and focus in on just the momentous events at hand – Robinson's years in the minors leading up to and through his rookie season with the Dodgers. That focus has allowed him to bypass some of the pitfalls of the biopic and craft a more elegant and certainly more entertaining narrative.

And that is a narrative of trial, like Job but with less fishing and more baseball. For Robinson, the call comes like a bolt out of the blue when Dodgers owner Branch Ricky (an absolutely superb Harrison Ford) decides come hell or high water he will integrate his team and open them up to a potential flood of new ticket buyers in the process.

The religious analog is not accidental. Ricky frequently intones both his actions and his management style itself through the lens of his faith; a lens "42" carries from beginning to end, casting Robinson as some sort of modern day Savior.

Which is the other hand to "42." It's too aware of the symbolism it is dealing with and can't pull away from it enough to try and turn its characters into real people, instead focusing on easily digestible, repetitive emotional chunks.

Jackie himself is a naturally combative personality who has no problem standing up to the prejudice he finds around the country. It's an instinct he quick realizes he will have to hold on to as he faces a torrent of it from both in and outside the Dodgers.

Which is about as complex as "42" cares to get. After that it quickly drops into scenes of Jackie being tested followed by a pep talk either from his wife (Nicole Beharie), Ricky or one of his teammates. And the odd moment of schadenfreude when people who have been nasty to Jackie get their comeuppance, of course.

It takes something real and turns it into corn, pulling much of the power from it. It's fun to watch, mainly due to the strength of the character actors filling out the supporting cast – Ford, Beharie, Christopher Meloni's unfortunately brief turn as the Dodgers flammable General Manager. It's balanced out, for better or for worse, by the younger actors such as Jackie's chronicler, or his various teammates on the Dodgers. They inevitably get the worst dialog and unlike some of their older co-stars don't yet have the skill to sell it.

"42" is enjoyable as hagiography goes, but for a genuinely important subject it has all the density of a soufflé. Yeah it could have been over serious and unwatchable, but in trying to avoid that Helgeland has gone a bit too far in the opposite direction, taking something that could have been great and reducing it just sort of harmless.

ACTORBrian Helgeland
Best of the ARTIST
ACTORChadwick Boseman
Best of the ARTIST
ACTORHarrison Ford
Best of the ARTIST

ACTORKelley Jakle
Best of the ARTIST
ACTORAlan Tudyk
Best of the ARTIST
ACTORChristopher Meloni
Best of the ARTIST
ACTORLucas Black
Best of the ARTIST

ACTORJohn C. McGinley
Best of the ARTIST
ACTORJud Tylor
Best of the ARTIST
ACTORRyan Merriman
Best of the ARTIST

ACTORT.R. Knight
Best of the ARTIST
ACTORBrett Cullen
Best of the ARTIST
ACTORNicole Beharie
Best of the ARTIST

TOP 10 Jackie Robinson Videos!

1. THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY FULL MOVIE - Watch the full film starring Jackie Robinson himself. Also starring Ruby Dee.

2. JACKIE ROBINSON A LIFE STORY - Watch an excerpt from the critically acclaimed national television special.

3. JACKIE ROBINSON STEALS HOME - Watch the classic World Series moment when Robinson steals home and Yogi Berra goes nuts in the 1955 Series.

4. 42 OFFICIAL MOVIE TRAILER - Watch the 2013 film trailer to the biography of Jackie Robinson film.

5. TRIBUTE TO JACKIE ROBINSON - Watch montage video of the greatest moment in the career of Jackie Robinson.

6. JACKIE ROBINSON TALKS WITH ED SULLIVAN - Jackie Robinson interviewed by Ed Sullivan, as seen on The Ed Sullivan Show on May 20, 1963.

7. SESAME STREET JACKIE ROBINSON - Watch Jackie recite the alphabet on the iconic childrens show.

8. MAJOR LEAGUE DEBUT JACKIE ROBINSON - On May 18, 1947, Jackie Robinson made his first career appearance in Chicago, in front of a sold out Wrigley Field crowd.

9. BRANCH RICKEY AND JACKIE ROBINSON PARTNERSHIP - The story of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson's partnership told from Ohio Wesleyan University, Rickey's Alma mater.

10. DID YOU SEE JACKIE ROBINSON HIT THAT BALL? - Watch and listen to the original version of the Jackie Robinson song. By Woodrow Buddy Johnson & Count Basie (1949)

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42, 2013