Director: Brian Helgeland
Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie, Christopher Meloni, Alan Tudyk, John C. McGinley
42 tells the story of Jackie Robinson, the first black player in Major League Baseball. It covers the first couple of years of his career from 1945 to 1947.
I’ve never liked Baseball but it’s a sport that is probably most synonymous with America and this film deals with perhaps the most important episode in the history of the sport. Not having been a follower of Baseball I had only heard Jackie Robinson’s name in passing and wasn’t really aware of the impact he had. I do love biopics though, and sport movies, and the reviews have generally been positive so I was looking forward to giving this one a go.
Boseman gives a strong performance as Robinson. I really liked this actor and I think he’s going to have a good career ahead of him. He has a strong presence and is able to grab people’s attention in any scene he’s in, which is saying something when you’re sharing a set with Harrison Ford. The strength of Boseman’s performance was showing the suppressed rage and anger that Robinson felt as he was sledged by the crowds, the opponents and in some cases his own team mates. There was one particularly powerful scene in a tunnel where the rage was allowed to boil over, and Boseman captured the essence of pain and tragedy in that moment. Ford and Tudyk were the other stand out performers in 42 and both were on opposite sides of the spectrum, with Ford playing the man who recruited Robinson and Tudyk playing a coach who spewed vile abuse while Robinson was attempting to bat.
However, other than those three no-one else made an impact on the screen (with the exception of Meloni, but he disappeared fairly quickly). The other characters were forgettable and if I was pressed I don’t think I could tell you many of their names.
The biggest criticism I have with the movie is that it feels like I only got the highlights of the story. It feels brisk and I had no real sense of how much time had passed or how the characters were changing, I was actually surprised when the film ended because it felt like there should have been more to it. I would have liked more context in the film, because as I’m not a Baseball fan I’m not aware of the intricacies of how the season works, so a bit more effort in explaining that would have gone a long way, and a bit more about the organization as a whole would have helped. For example, the Dodgers get a new coach at one point in the film but he only has a few lines and it’s a wonder they bothered including it at all. It feels like there’s a lot that the film missed out on.
The racism is always difficult to watch and it’s horrible to hear such vitriol pour forth from people’s mouths, so the film at least conveyed the unsettling tone well. One moment that I loved was at a game where a young boy was talking with his father about seeing the players. It’s a perfectly innocent moment until Robinson takes to the field and suddenly the crowd erupts, incensed by the presence of a black man. They hurl abuse at him and the camera focuses on the child. The confusion is plain on his face but he looks around at the crowd and up to his father, and then he joins in. It shows that racism and hate is something that’s learned, and I liked the way that was shown here.
Overall, I liked the movie and it was engaging to watch but I can’t help but feel that I’m still missing some of the finer nuances of the story. It’s certainly not a bad film, but it’s lacking in some respects so I can’t tell you to go out and watch it straight away. I wouldn’t avoid it but I think there are other films that cover similar areas to greater effect.