Despite not really following the sport that closely, I've always been a bit of a sucker for baseball films. I grew up loving movies like The Natural and one of may favorite sports films in the last few years was Moneyball. So, when I saw they were making a bio-pic of Jackie Robinson that was co-starring one of my favorite actors of all time (Harrison Ford), I knew I was going to see it. However, I had a few reservations going into this film that I have a difficult time articulating. Perhaps it was the inclusion of a Jay-Z song in the trailers, or maybe the completely unknown lead starring as the legendary baseball player, but I wasn't sure what the quality of the film would be.
42 tells the true story of Jackie Robinson's rookie season in the MLB, playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the years 1946-1947. The owner of the Dodgers, Branch Rickey (Ford), is concerned that they may be missing a large portion of their audience by restricting African-Americans from playing in the MLB. He tasks his assistant with the duty of finding a suitable player to break the controversial boundary, finding Jackie Robinson, a gifted albeit hard-nosed shortstop who has a penchant for stealing bases. As Jackie climbs the ranks of the professional baseball world, however, he meets opposition that could not only put a stop to their game-changing move, but also put him and his family in physical danger.
Given that this is a historical film, I was very interested to see some of the back-story of one of baseball's most influential and inspirational figures. I've heard some complaints about the retelling of Jackie's story being too reverential, refusing to expose his personal demons or looking deeper into his struggles. However, as this has become something of a stereotype in the biographical genre, I found it somewhat refreshing that we weren't subjected to a harsh, unflattering portrayal of one of baseball's most beloved players. I didn't need to see Jackie Robinson's deeply troubled adult son struggle with drugs after returning from the Vietnam War or experience the depressing realities of the baseball legend's final days. The movie wisely focuses on the inspirational tale of Robinson's history-making rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, paying tribute to a true American icon.
Some of the only complaints I have with this movie are with the acting, particularly in the film's early scenes. The exchanges didn't entirely gel for me, and while I like the actors in other things, I felt some of the performances were too "showy" to be completely believable. However, despite his relatively unknown status in Hollywood, Chadwick Boseman does an admirable job of portraying the emotional journey taken by Jackie Robinson during that troubling time. He has the physicality for the role, but also is likable, which is absolutely necessary for this part. Harrison Ford also put in a good performance, settling into the older role quite nicely.
Overall, this is the first real "feel-good" film of the year, and while it isn't necessarily a perfect effort (the ending is a little abrupt), I still couldn't help but enjoy 42. The story is almost too good to be true, but the reality of it makes it nearly impossible to dislike. One sign of a good movie is obviously the reaction of the audience, and most of the people in our theatre were deeply involved in the story and even applauded at the end. This movie is a true crowd-pleaser, and I recommend you go see it with the whole family. I give 42 three and a half stars.
42 is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including language