Release Date: April 12, 2013
Director: Brian Helgeland
Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie
Runtime: 128 min
Jackie Robinson (portrayed by Chadwick Boseman) is a prominent figure in the civil rights for black athletes, as he is the first African-American athlete to play in the major leagues and break the colour barrier. 42 is the second biopic for Robinson, after 1950’s The Jackie Robinson Story. This follows Robinson’s life between 1945 and 1947, focusing on the hardships faces, after being integrated into a white-dominated sport by Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford).
It highlights these hardships he faces so precisely, that we really start to care for Robinson and what he goes through to play a game that he loves, and advance equality among races in the process. It is a true testament to the heart and soul of Jackie Robinson, a man for segregation, and a true American hero. That’s what helps this become such a successful film when it’s both on the field, and off.
When it’s on the field, it’s very rousing and often times, you’ll have the urge to stand up and cheer. It really feels like one is watching the actual game on TV for the first time, and that’s what helps it feel genuine. The more competitive viewers might even feel the urge to yell at the screen when the umpire makes a bad call; and you’ll definitely feel infuriated by some of characters’ actions against Robinson. You’ll either want to clap or weep for him at times because of the opposite race’s contempt he must face.
A lot of the racism is expressed through manipulative characterization. Some are just right, like when some of his own team mates still don’t feel comfortable playing with him or even showering with him, for that matter. Or when a child at a Cincinnati game falls under the societal pressures of the day and begins shouting racial slurs at Robinson like the rest of the crowd. Other times, they’re way over-the-top. Take Alan Tudyk’s character of Ben Chapman, for example. What he does is infuriating and manipulative because its cause is to get the watcher’s blood boiling, but it does work effectively, and it will definitely rouse a certain reaction. When Jackie breaks down and cannot take the discrimination any more, it is truly powerful and one of the film’s strongest scenes, on the field or not. That’s what really admirable about a sports feature like such: It finds a unique balance between scenes on-and-off the green grass.
It’s always exciting and never a dull moment, even if the dialogue gets more corny than your grandmother’s best corn dish at Thanksgiving. It’s helped by the stellar performances from the cast. Almost everyone in the supporting cast is fine, but Andre Holland as journalist and companion of Robinson, Wendell Smith, is very good. Lucas Black as Pee Wee Johnson is excellent, and the scene he shares with Boseman is significant and heart-warming Chadwick Boseman (best known prior to this for small-screen roles in Persons Unknown and Lincoln Heights) shines as Jackie Robinson in a star-making role, and since Robinson can’t play himself (dead men can’t act!), you’ll be glad it’s Boseman. The chemistry between him and Harrison Ford (appearing as Branch Rickey) is excellent, and the scenes they share together are very memorable. Since Ford will most likely receive an Oscar nomination for his outstanding performance, he once again proves he has the ability to be wildly successful without a fedora on his head or a lightsaber in his hands.
It’s also impressive that such a powerful film gets to have a little fun with itself, as it beams with charm. There’s some laugh-out-loud humour here, as well, especially when John C. McGinley (portraying Red Barber) commentates; one of his funniest lines about being, about Robinson, “He’s definitely a brunette.” What would we do without that keen sense of observation?
Do not miss the opportunity to see 42 in theatres, because it is a fantastic true story that has to be known; it’s a rousing, charming grand slam and a new American classic. It’s a two-hour-plus film that feels like 90 minutes, and it’s one of the best sports movies of the past few years.