42 isn’t a cinematic grand slam – but it is based on such a great and transformative moment in American sports history that you can’t help but cheer it on. 42 tells (with some dramatic, and some sanitized license) the true story of two heroes: Jackie Robinson, the first African American baseball player to play in the Major Leagues, and Branch Rickey, the baseball executive who brought Robinson into the fold – and onto the field- in 1947.
The story unfolds with Rickey making the bold decision to find the right “negro player” to integrate his Brooklyn Dodgers team, and ultimately, the league. His choice turns out to be one Jackie Robinson, who subsequently makes the treacherous yet triumphant journey from the negro leagues to the minors, to the majors – in a country still largely divided by racial segregation. Relative unknown Chadwick Boseman is quite endearing as Robinson. And veteran actor Harrison Ford is quirky and inspirational as Rickey, though his bushy eyebrows and bizarre accent (think The Penguin from Batman) take some getting used to.
Baseball fans will surely draw more from the film than the non-fan, but 42 still holds its own as a relatively informative and entertaining family-movie option. The language is occasionally disturbing to any civil-rights minded human, but I suspect it doesn’t come close to the reality of the vitriol that Robinson had to endure as he broke the color barrier.
The movie is at its best when Robinson is on the field– and at its funniest when legendary announcer Red Barber (John C. McGinley) is providing play-by-play. Off the field, the movie gets bogged down in a few places, despite an excellent supporting cast. The love story between Jackie and his wife Rachel (Nicole Biharie) is sweet and assuredly poignant, but not particularly well developed. Same goes for the interplay between the Robinsons and black sportswriter and confidant Wendell Smith (Andre Holland). Smith’s character
pops up sporadically, often plugging away at the typewriter that he’s forced to keep on his lap, because he wasn’t allowed in the whites-only press box. His story would make for an interesting documentary or movie on its own. The ending of 42 feels a bit anti-climactic, but the viewer gets some sense of closure from a series of real-life pictures and ‘whatever happened to’ gems. So don’t skip out on the credits.
Bottom line: Grab ya some peanuts and cracker jacks, watch 42 for the love of the game, then tip your hat to the late Jackie Robinson the next time your favorite MLB team takes the field.