By Benjamin Lane
42. (2013). Run Time: 128 mins. MPAA: PG-13 (for thematic elements including language). Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie, Christopher Meloni, Lucas Black, and Alan Tudyk. Written and Directed by Brian Helgeland.
It cannot be said by anyone that Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson wasn’t an inspiration. Whether the matter is baseball or the Civil Rights movement in general, Robinson’s name is plastered along with the likes of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. And while we’ve had some really good films lately that display the severity of segregation (The Help, for instance) and really good films that display the behind the scenes situations in the game of baseball (Moneyball), how does a film result when the two of them are morphed together? Not as good as one would hope. In fact, both of the films I just mentioned are better than 42. However, as it stands, there is a lot to love about this film, and I feel absolutely safe in saying that anyone that loves the game of baseball, American history, or just the art of filmmaking, will find something to like and relate to in it.
If you go into 42 expecting a baseball movie to the highest degree, with every scene flooding with baseball action and intense game play, you will be disappointed. If you go into this movie expecting a look at the life of Jackie Robinson the man, with a good bit of that baseball action thrown in there, you’re going to get what you asked for. Personally, I love the game of baseball. And I find it a bit distressing that many people go into baseball movies expecting a movie that is nothing but men playing baseball. If you want that, go watch a game. This is a movie, people, and movies require story. I, a baseball fan, am a huge fan of when baseball movies are done right, even if they don’t present a lot of baseball action. Sure, movies such as The Sandlot and The Bad News Bears are great, but sometimes it’s the movies with the emphasis on the story, such as Field of Dreams and Moneyball, that come off as the most powerful. Here, in 42, writer/director Brian Helgeland makes a fine balance between being a respectable biopic, an intriguing look on segregation, and an absorbingly edited baseball movie, and it really works to the film’s benefit.
It’s necessary to talk a bit about Brian Helgeland. This man is about as much of a mixed bag as they come. He wrote and directed this movie, and I will address that here in a moment, but first let’s take a look at what he has done in the past. As far as directing goes, the list is unimpressive: Payback and A Knight’s Tale. Only two movies under his belt, and both of them are below average, even though A Knight’s Tale is pretty entertaining when you don’t think about it. Here is the kicker. As far as writing goes, here is what he has done: Blood Work and Mystic River (both directed by Clint Eastwood, the latter being one of his finest films to date and one of the best films of the past decade in my opinion), The Taking of Pelham 123, Man on Fire, and Salt. Sure, he has some stinkers thrown in there, but on the whole he is a very talented writer. In 42, I am pleased to say he did a fine job both with the pen and behind the camera. I would say it is Helgeland’s best directed film to date. The most impressive aspect of the direction is the filming of the baseball scenes. This is some of the best edited baseball action I have seen since Moneyball. In 2012, a movie was released called Trouble With the Curve, which I found to be a pretty good father-daughter themed movie that, unfortunately, suffered from some poor editing during the baseball scenes. The hits were too loud and it seemed like the editor decided to turn the mikes to full volume to somewhat generate an applauding reaction from the crowd when in reality it just caused the audience to cover their ears. Thankfully, in 42, everything feels balanced, and I applaud Kevin Stitt, film editor, for that. As far as writing goes, I feel like this is the film’s major flaw, just because nothing really stands out. The script isn’t bad at all, it just doesn’t match up to the subject matter and some of the dialogue feels average, which is only bad because of the potential this story had. Still though, it was a good script overall.
Now this film is about Jackie Robinson and when you are casting a character so iconic, it is important to pick the right person. In some cases, actors have been picked that are now seen as the Hollywood embodiment of the person and cannot be seen as anyone else (for me that was Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line). Here, Robinson is portrayed by Chadwick Boseman. This, being Boseman’s first movie (he previously starred in a few TV shows), was surely a big shoe to step into, especially playing such an iconic symbol. And he did fine. Nothing to complain about with his performance. There is a scene in which tension that had been rising from racial comments finally reached the breaking point and his lashing out was a powerful scene. Apart from that scene, I can’t remember much to brag about. He did fine, and that’s all that matters. As for the supporting cast, mostly everyone did a good job, specifically Christopher Meloni and Alan Tudyk, a character you’ll love to hate. But the standout performer in 42 is Harrison Ford hands down. That guy is freaking awesome in this movie. I know, it’s Harrison Ford, he’s bound to be awesome. He’s Hans Solo and Indiana Jones. Here, he is a Bible-verse spitting baseball lover that you’ll be absorbed by every second.
FINAL VERDICT: Despite a failure to live up to how great a Jackie Robinson movie could have been, 42 is entertaining nevertheless, and it is the best baseball movie since Moneyball in 2011. This is an absorbing baseball movie that has lots of heart, emotional subject matter, and some rousing baseball action that will leave lovers of baseball, history, or movies pleased all the same. (B)