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Article by Teddy Durgin

42 Has the Box Offices Number

Unless you cast Nicolas Cage in the lead or film it from the perspective of a blind season-ticket holder in the nose-bleed seats of old Ebbetts Field, you really cant mess up the Jackie Robinson story. So, the only lingering nitpick I have with the very entertaining 42 is that its a very good movie... just not a great one. Dont get me wrong. I really, really liked this film. I just didnt flat-out love it. I actually had the same reaction to 42 that I had when I saw The Babe 20 years ago. That was the film in which John Goodman starred as Babe Ruth. It didnt do much at the box office. Its largely been forgotten in the annals of baseball flicks. But I thought it was a really solid flick that had moments where it soared and moments where it was stilted and over-dramatic. So it is with 42. Chadwick Boseman stars as Robinson, who broke Major League Baseballs color barrier in 1947 amid some truly scary opposition from the more racist elements of American society back then. Legendary Brooklyn Dodgers team executive Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford, in his best role in years) selected Robinson because he believed he had the strength and composure to handle the racial slurs and threats of violence that were surely going to come. The film does a great job laying out Rickeys multi-tiered motivation for going this route. On the one hand, he wanted to make history and right a clear social wrong. On the other hand... he wanted to win! Jackie Robinson gave his team its best chance to do just that. The cast is what makes this movie. Ford hasnt locked in on a role like this in years. There are moments where he is quite hammy in the part. But playing Branch Rickey seems to have reinvigorated the movie star. He not only submits to some fairly heavy makeup and prosthetics here, it is interesting to note that Ford is playing a real-life historical figure for the first time ever on screen. He waited for just the right role. Ford takes ownership of the part, and his scenes with Boseman have a real pop. And speaking of Boseman, I am really glad writer-director Brian Helgeland went with a largely unknown actor here. You totally buy the young man as Jackie Robinson, both physically and emotionally. If anything, I wish Helgeland opened up the playbook even more and trusted Boseman to pull off even more scenes and moments and emotions in the role. The film suffers from a too simple story structure, hitting major plot points with a hammer but coming up a bit short on the smaller moments that often distinguish great biopics from good ones. The baseball in the movie is a bit jive, too. For every sequence where Robinson is criticized, insulted and/or threatened, you know youre never a few moments away from Jackie hitting a homer or making a big play. The man died at 53, and those who knew him have always conjectured that the amount of abuse he had to internalize, the number of taunts and insults he had to absorb without answering back, is what put him in that early grave. I wanted to see more of that struggle dramatized. Of course, Jackie Robinson did most of his answering with a glove and a bat. The film is an undeniably moving experience, and it should certainly prove inspirational to young people who will watch it knowing very little of this major figure in sports and American history. Regardless of your age, if you do see it, dont be surprised if No. 42 ends up being No. 1 in your heart for quite some time.

42 is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including language and racial slurs.

 

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