Synopsis: Hero is a word we hear often in sports, but heroism is not always about achievements on the field of play. 42 tells the story of two men-the great Jackie Robinson and trailblazing Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey-whose brave stand against prejudice forever changed the world by changing the game of baseball.
Release Date: April 12, 2013 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Biography
The number 42 is just another number, unless you see it on a baseball jersey. You will never see 42 on a jersey in modern baseball because it is the only number to have been retired by the entire organization; every team in every state across the country does not assign 42 to any of its player. That number belongs to one man, one legend, and one hell of a ballplayer, Jackie Robinson. Chadwick Boseman takes on the character of Jackie Robinson in 42, a biographical telling of Robinson’s first year with the Brooklyn Dodgers. More importantly, as the first Black baseball player to sign with a Major League team; at the time there were 16 teams and 400 players…all White. 1947 would mark the year the numbers shifted to 399 White and 1 Black. Robinson had played baseball for years on an all Black team, just as every other Black player did. The Dodgers owner Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) had a plan to change the game, and make history in the process, by hiring a Black Baseball player–Jackie Robinson got the pleasure, and the torture, of being that man.
At 26-years-old Robinson was plucked out of obscurity and instantly made headlines when Rickey signed him. 42 chronicles around 2 years of Robinson’s life; from when he played for a minor team in Montreal for Rickey and then his first full year with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Time moves quickly, and quite often the continuity of the story is staggered. It is difficult to decipher if director/screenwriter Brian Helgeland was purposefully toying with temporality, or if the movie had footage problems and was edited together as best as possible. The first act struggles greatly because of this, as things happen without any fluid motion between scenes or sense of logical time and space. Its easily overlooked, as the performances by all involved, especially Ford as Rickey and Boseman’s Robinson are remarkable in a variety of situations. The aforementioned issues are not what cause 42 to drop below expectations to become a subpar film. It is the use of racism, and only racism, to carry the film along that creates a singular story where the conflict is not about a man but about actions against the man. It does not take long before watching Robinson be beaten mentally, and threatened physically, tests your patience. 42 does not have any depth to its story, just a retelling of popular events in his career that anyone could read in a book. The heart and soul of the people involved, that is what moviegoers want to see in a Jackie Robinson biopic; 42 is not that movie.
What 42 will undoubtedly do is provoke empathy and produce an overall sense of pride towards Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey, and everyone else who stood behind the decision to desegregate baseball. The scene where Robinson wears his jersey for the first time and looks out onto the field will give you goosebumps because you know what an important moment it was, for Baseball and for America. 42 is full of plenty of these awe-inspiring moments, but it requires its viewer to infer their own emotions into the story in order to create an emotional connection to what is being shown. Every momentous scene in the movie is laden with a soapy musical score that instantly screams “this is important, this is epic..you should cry now.” It is very reminiscent of a romance, with sound cues that guarantee a tear will puddle in your eye. The tears may come for you with 42 but they will not because of the richness to the story being presented. They will come because you know from history of the struggles endured, the guilt you carry because of your ancestors beliefs and actions, the pain that comes with seeing a person attacked mercilessly and without warrant. As a movie about Jackie Robinson, 42 is not going to provide any real insight into the man. What it will do, as movies of this sort always do, is signify something greater and remind all of us of what kind of place we came from, how far we have come, and how much farther we have to go–and that it is possible.
42 is meant to be the story of Jackie Robinson’s rise in becoming a baseball legend and making history as the first Black professional baseball player. While this may be the implied story in the film there is little shown about the man Jackie Robinson, besides the incredible fortitude he possessed to not allow the hate-filled reaction to his playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers cause him to lash out at the attackers. A fact made very clear early on is Robinson had a temper; therefore the movie spends a great deal of time having him curb that anger, naturally. What of the man, and his emotions during this momentous time? What of his family’s struggles, because everything appears to be far too easy at home amidst the conflict? A brief glimpse now and again displays the struggle Robinson endured, on his own team and with others, but a connection to Jackie Robinson is never achieved.
42 is bogged down with one singular conflict, racism, that it forgets to develop its main character. Racism in America during this era, the late 1940s, was rampant and segregation still in full force throughout most of the country. The movie never fails to display this fact. Actually, it is that sole conflict that it establishes. A Black baseball player and the racism he faces on the field is an easy metaphor for any Black citizen at the time in any profession. 42 does a great job of exemplifying this fact, to the point of being obnoxious in its execution because it does not develop any additional conflicts in the film or insight into Jackie Robinson. In 42 you see a recounting of Robinson’s story, you don’t feel the ambition behind what all involved were doing and the magnitude of their choices. Worst of all, 42 doesn’t even skip a beat when the time comes for Robinson to sign his contract with the Dodgers–as if it was a choice he made without any thought or inhibition. Anyone can see right through that, because the love of the game or “getting paid” cannot be enough to take on such pressure. If it was all such an easy decision than there was no need to dramatize 42 and the writers succeeded tenfold. The reality is that this cannot be the truth.
To make matters worse, 42 actually gives greater dimension to the Dodgers owner, Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), than it does to the man who had the bravery to wear the 42 jersey. Robinson was taking a risk when he signed on to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers; a risk to his life and the life of his family–none of which is ever overtly expressed in the film aside from a casual reference to hate mail that has been received. Then again, that scene does not even involve Robinson’s character, it is yet another showcase for Ford’s Rickey. 42 is more of a dual story, that of Robinson and of Rickey, but Rickey is the one character you actually connect with, if even on a remote level. It took a great deal of courage and gall to hire Jackie Robinson when everyone else in Baseball was against it. He stood up for his choice, protected Robinson, and defended him against all who would try and put an end to his time with the Dodgers. He may have done it for the money, or to prove a point, or whatever reason you can decipher from the thin explanation given. Regardless, Rickey is one to be praised as well in 42. Both Robinson and Rickey’s story deserves more than 42 provides; perhaps a great documentarian will see this film and realize it can and should be done better–and do it.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Brian Helgeland
- Screenwriter(s): Brian Helgeland
- Cast: Chadwick Boseman (Jackie Robinson)Harrison Ford (Branch Rickey)Nicole Beharie (Rachel Robinson) Christopher Meloni (Leo Durocher)Ryan Merriman (Dixie Walker)Lucas Black (Pee Wee Reese)Andre Holland (Wendell Smith)Alan Tudyk (Ben Chapman)Hamish Linklater (Ralph Branca)T.R. Knight (Harold Parrott)
- Cinematographer: Don Burgess
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Mark Isham
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA