Before performance enhancing drugs, which present a fundamental problem within the game of baseball there was an even bigger moral problem present within the game. Segregation in general was a despicable practice and seeing it on display in movies is bad enough and illicit some very negative feelings, but to think of how much worse it was to actually live it just feels overwhelming. The story of Jackie Robinson gives people a chance to get a taste of that time period and the struggles of being the first black man in the game of baseball and 42 might take a few liberties with that story, but is still an inspiring and moving bit of cinema.
Along with chronicling the rise of Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) in baseball it also points a secondary spotlight on Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) the baseball exec that decides to break the race barrier in the sport by bringing Robinson into the Brooklyn Dodgers organization. Being the first African American player in the league Robinson has to deal with an overwhelming amount of racism including threats against his life along with his wife and son while his teammates each learn to treat him as one of their own.
42 has a very old fashioned look about it, something that gives it quite a bit of character and a very distinct feel. The old fashioned nature of it tends to make some of the characters seem like caricatures which at times include Harrison Ford and his cigar chewing persona. The look also lends to the hyper awareness of the time period, which keeps it from appearing too stale and tame as far as the filmmaking is concerned.
The performances from both Ford and Boseman are great even though Ford seems a bit like a Looney Toons villain when he talks; he still has quite a few fantastic moments in the film. Boseman plays the role of Robinson in a very layered yet subtle way as he portrays a man with a strong will and a bit of an attitude, but also with fragile vulnerability when it comes to the love for his family. The same thing that makes his character seem vulnerable also tends to be what he turns to when he needs strength, which adds a great deal of heart at the center of the film. The dynamic between Robinson and his wife gives 42 a sweetness to go along with the true tale of inspiration.
I’m a sucker for baseball movies and I felt like a kid in a candy store watching the old style of the film, retro baseball teams, retro uniforms and some really great in game action. Some of the moments with Jackie at the plate were genuinely tense since you knew that there was always a high probability the pitcher on the mound or anyone on the field could do something to hurt him at any second. The sound of the baseball flying at his head as the pitcher hurls a fastball was done brilliantly and almost made me feel like ducking to miss the ball as I was sitting in my seat. Being a baseball fan just watching baseball in this time period is enough to geek out over and I had plenty of opportunities to do so.
42 isn’t perfect, as there are elements in the script that didn’t feel natural and moments that felt very thinly written which never completely took me out of the film, but I think it’s worth mentioning. Some of the casting really worked where some seemed a bit awkward- specifically the long drawn out and cartoonishly racist scene with Alan Tudyk as a slur hurling manager. I love Tudyk and moments of his performance work and while I’m sure what he did may have been an actual thing that happened in those days, it just felt forced with Tudyk in the role. The script does tend to make the characters a little exaggerated in terms of their mannerisms, but otherwise Ford and Boseman really carry the film from beginning to end along with the ever present institutional spirit that shines through the wonderful true story that inspires it.
Written By: Luke (@CrummyLuke on Twitter)