Ashvegas movie review: 42


“What happened to my ‘no corny biopic’ clause?”
(Warner Bros.)

Brian Helgeland’s 42 is a sappy by-the-book biopic that saves face through (and sometime in spite of) unflappable reverence for its subject.  In no way does the film belittle Jackie Robinson’s myriad struggles on his way to breaking baseball’s color barrier, but by taking a near messianic approach to the life of one extraordinary human being it also plays these moments almost dishonorably safe.  As a result, a complex and pivotal piece of history is simplified to feel-good filmmaking 101, parameters in which there’s still plenty of value even if the story deserves more than a cinematic sermon.

“If Jackie doesn’t work out, can you play?”
(Warner Bros.)

In a star-making performance, Chadwick Boseman uncannily channels Robinson.  The young actor looks the part and his face effectively captures first the apprehension of coming into such a novel situation, then the anguish and triumph that ensues.  Boseman’s athleticism likewise proves key to the baseball scenes, most of which are staged with a decent level of excitement.  Helgeland utilizes a good variety of angles and film speeds to keep the energy up while both Boseman and the players around him exhibit a strong grasp of the game.

“Take a picture. It’ll last…oh, never mind.”
(Warner Bros.)

With such strong baseball fundamentals, it’s doubly a shame that most of 42 is cornier than Iowa.  Written by Helgeland in addition to his work behind the camera, nearly every line is a speech and is scored to maximum emotional manipulation by Mark Isham’s oppressively heavy strings.  Apparently set on outdoing The Natural, the effect regularly draws attention to itself and unnecessarily soaps up already powerful material.  It does, however, work in arguably two of the film’s most important moments, that of Robinson stepping onto Ebbet’s Field for the first time as a Brooklyn Dodger and a certain heroic moment at the plate that closes the film.  Boseman’s magnetism and the respect built for Robinson prior to and throughout the film make it difficult to resist these moments, though there remains a longing to have come by these emotions through more organic means.

Eradicating racism with one swing!
(Warner Bros.)

As for the recognizable names that played a key role in Robinson’s story, their onscreen counterparts fare to mixed results.  The biggest star on board, Harrison Ford is silly as Branch Rickey and never quite able to harness the Dodger executive’s heavy midwestern accent.  Counteracting his oddities are several gifted supporting players, namely Chris Meloni as brash Dodgers manager Leo Durocher, a sweet yet strong Nicole Behare as Jackie’s wife Rachel, and John C. McGinley as radio announcer Red Barber, handling the colorful play-by-play like a pro.  Their respective strengths offer respites from the overbearing important moments and generally grant the messages greater meaning, but these transcendent spots only go so far.  At its heart, 42 is sentimental mush and if it weren’t for Robinson’s laudable character and the near universal respect for his achievements, the film wouldn’t stand a chance.

Grade: C

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including language.

42 is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.


The Week in Film: Wanna Fight? edition July 16, 2013 - 4:42 pm

[…] rooms across the country.  The same goes for the reverential yet corny Jackie Robinson biopic 42 and the Sylvester “I’m Still Here” Stallone action extravaganza Bullet to the […]

Amanda N. April 16, 2013 - 7:50 pm

Edwin – “Cornier than Iowa” is my new favorite line of all time. Love it!

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