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  • 42: A Review

    I had the pleasure of watching the movie “42” last night so thought I would post my review. The beginning credits alert us that it was “based on a true story.” Really? Who knew! (Maybe there was a specific reason they had to include that, I don’t know.)

    The opening scenes paint the picture of the country at the time. Afro-American men returned from fighting for their country in World War II, but Jim Crow laws segregating them from the white man’s world were still in effect. The movie also touches on what I think is one of the interesting contradictions in baseball history - how was baseball, a sport so steeped in tradition and history, at the forefront of integration? Because of the work of two men: Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson.
    I thought the movie was magnificently cast- it was one of those movies where the main players (no pun intended) are so well known that the choice to go with relative unknowns really allows you to identify with them as their character, not as “famous actor x” playing a character. Chadwick Boseman, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Jackie Robinson, does an admirable job in the baseball scenes capturing Robinson’s athletic mannerisms such as dancing off the bases to distract the pitcher or sliding into second base. He also takes us into the mind of a man thrust into this world and gives us a glimpse of the rage, frustration and despair Robinson must have felt leading up to and during that first season in Brooklyn.

    The other cast members portraying Robinson’s teammates shed some light onto an underappreciated aspect of the story: what must it have been like to be a teammate of his? The actors portraying PeeWee Reese and Ralph Branca both have memorable scenes. Of course, Harrison Ford is a well-known actor and it’s a different type of role for him - instead of the swashbuckling Indiana Jones or playing a romantic lead, he plays an older man with what I’m guessing are fake eyebrows and some face prosthetics? He gives audiences a glimpse of the man who would make such a momentous decision. There is even a local connection: Minneapolis native T.R. Knight plays Dodgers employee Harold Parrott.

    I am a fan of some of Brian Helgeland’s movies (“L.A. Confidential” and “Mystic River”) and thought the movie was well-paced. There was only one scene, when Rachel Robinson leaves her son with the babysitter to go to the game, that I thought disrupted the flow of the movie. (I still don’t understand what the point of that scene was.) Some of the language is pure Hollywood drama (“What do you do when a hero comes to dinner?”). And, as always, the filmmakers took liberties with the facts to make it flow better as a movie (the legendary scene of PeeWee Reese putting his arm around Jackie Robinson may not have taken place in Cincinnati). But fans of the game will be able to appreciate the research and authenticity of the baseball scenes and non-baseball fans will enjoy the great human story.

    To Helgeland’s credit, the movie doesn’t sugar coat what Robinson experienced (In fact, as it is in most cases, you know the movie barely scratches the surface.) The PG-13 rating is mostly due to the racial epithets liberally used in the film. With such heavy subject matter, I was also impressed by the film’s ability to intersperse humor throughout. (In one memorable scene, the new Dodgers manager Burt Shotton comes into the clubhouse to introduce himself to the players, turns to Jackie Robinson and says, “You Robinson?”) This is a great addition to the cadre of baseball movies and reminds us to take a minute to remember the sacrifices of two great men who changed our country more than 60 years ago.

    Have you seen it and what did you think?
    This article was originally published in blog: 42: A Review started by Sarah
    Comments 9 Comments
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      I disagree. Helgeland entirely sugarcoated the experience... He could have gone on for two hours about how bad Robinson's rookie year was and how much being in the league just a few years aged the man.

      Overall, it was a decent movie that lacked emotion and softballed Robinson's time in Montreal (he struggled for quite some time adapting to his "experience" and the fact that his manager despised him) and even made his time in Brooklyn look relatively easy. Instead of showing how the fanbase was extremely mixed, many of his teammates hated him (more than was shown), and how Jackie was completely alone, the movie opted for the socially acceptable white man's viewpoint and made the turning point of the movie about Robinson's white teammates instead of about Robinson himself.

      I left the theatre feeling "meh". The movie could have been so much more than it was but it didn't have the balls to show just how bad it got for Robinson and how much he did it by himself.

      But kudos to Ford, who played a far more convincing Branch Rickey than I ever expected to see. Easily the best performance of the film (though Boseman's performance as Robinson was quite good as well).
    1. handler's Avatar
      handler -
      how was baseball, a sport so steeped in tradition and history, at the forefront of integration? Because of the work of two men: Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson.
      oh really?

      http://www.theatlantic.com/entertain...-in-42/274886/
    1. Mr. Brooks's Avatar
      Mr. Brooks -
      I was excited to see this movie until I saw Whitlock's comments on it.
      He says its basically a Disney movie with the N word.
      No substance or depth.
      I'm still going to see it, but that's disappointing if true, Jackie Robinson deserves better than that.
    1. IdahoPilgrim's Avatar
      IdahoPilgrim -
      Wow! A lot of negative critiques. Both metacritic and rotten tomatoes are very positive on the film. Personally, I'm looking forward to it.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by sbknudson View Post
      Wow! A lot of negative critiques. Both metacritic and rotten tomatoes are very positive on the film. Personally, I'm looking forward to it.
      It's not a bad film by any means. The performances range between acceptable and very good and there are no glaring weaknesses in the film.

      But as someone who knows a little more about the story, it feels flat (and my fiancee, who knows nothing about Robinson that wasn't told in Burns' documentary, said the same thing). The emotional impact that should be there... Isn't. Instead of really delving into the character of the man (his court martial, his activist nature), he just comes off as frustrated for most of the film. The film glosses over his time in Montreal and how much his manager didn't want him there and it implies that Brooklyn fans either embraced him or were indifferent, which wasn't necessarily the case (obviously). The film completely skipped the agreement between Robinson and Rickey, where Jackie agreed to turn the other cheek for three seasons but after that point, was allowed to "fight back", which he did (quite gloriously). The movie needed to either start earlier in his life or end later. The time frame chosen left out too many important points of the man, what he did, and why he did it. Instead, we only got a small snapshot of Robinson that ignored many of the key moments that led to Rickey choosing him and what happened after that fateful rookie season.

      This is one of the greatest stories in American history. This film, while decent, didn't do that story (or the man) justice. It felt, for a lack of a better term... White-washed, in more ways than one. A "let's feel good about ourselves" instead of showing the true ugliness of the situation and how Robinson fought through it and ultimately died from the stress of that choice just a few years after his retirement.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      I think bio-pics lately have been lacking overall. Not that there hasn't been some good ones (J Edgar), but Lincoln for example. It wasn't about Lincoln. It was about the struggles to get the 13th amendment passed. I felt it lacking on so many levels based on what I expected it to be. '42' has undoubtedly had the same affect on many for the same reasons.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by ThePuck View Post
      I think bio-pics lately have been lacking overall. Not that there hasn't been some good ones (J Edgar), but Lincoln for example. It wasn't about Lincoln. It was about the struggles to get the 13th amendment passed. I felt it lacking on so many levels based on what I expected it to be. '42' has undoubtedly had the same affect on many for the same reasons.
      Lincoln was a much better movie, though (I never saw J Edgar). I quite enjoyed Lincoln until immediately after the "I wish I could stay... But I cannot." line, which was brilliant.

      Then the movie went into fifteen minutes of attempting to wring emotion out of me and achieved the exact opposite. Speilberg had gold in a final line and then tried to force emotion onto the audience and failed miserably. Someone should have stopped him and told him that audiences already know that Lincoln was going to die and ending the film with the implication that he knew he was going to die was much more powerful than ramming images of crying children down audiences' throats, which damned near ruined a powerful movie for me.

      But for most of the film, audiences got a feel for who Abraham Lincoln was as a man, artificially constructed or not. 42 did not give me that same feeling upon leaving the theatre.
    1. Don't Feed the Greed Guy's Avatar
      Don't Feed the Greed Guy -
      It's interesting to compare 42 to Lincoln. I enjoyed both, but Lincoln was a much more cerebral experience. 42 took the entertainment route, while treating racism in sports with the same sort of tenor struck in Remember the Titans.

      Here's another way to consider the distinction--movies like Lincoln and Amazing Grace (another excellent movie about slavery) address the political dimensions of racism. There is very little action in either movie.

      42 suceeds by addressing socio-political change through the medium of sports, and action. The live-action scenes are quite good, and the feel of a 1950's ballpark is recaptured. There are ugly moments too. The script is effective in capturing the cruel way that one man can use language to vilify his fellow man, and how small acts of compassion--and humor--can defuse hate.

      My wife and I took our two boys, age 9 and 8. They love baseball, and I think they caught something more than just an entertaining movie. At their age, I'm not sure Lincoln would have been as meaningful, or memorable.

      When the credits rolled, the moviegoers clapped, and some cheered. I can't remember the last time I heard a theater full of people do that. I'm not afraid to say that I was clapping, too.
    1. spideyo's Avatar
      spideyo -
      The reason it says "based on a true story" is not to indicate that it's not all made up, but actually to indicate that it's not 100% factually true. Basically, it means they used artistic license to change some things to make it a better movie. Because they stated that it was BASED on a true story, instead of BEING a true story, no one can sue them for false advertising.


      I just saw the movie yesterday and I thought it was fantastic. I didn't actually know that much about the story beforehand, and it was really eye-opening.

      Yes, it could have gone into more depth and covered a lot more stuff, but the movie is already 2:20 long.

      I took my wife to see it, an she isn't really a baseball fan but she loved it. I plan to take my daughters to see it as well.

      The bottom line is, that this movie is targeted towards the general audience, not hardcore baseball guys. People who may not really know much of anything about the story. It may not include all of the context, and it certainly tones down the actual threats and language hurled at Jackie, and the struggles he had. Again though, you can only fit so much into one movie, and as near as I can tell most of the changes are by omission rather than actually changing the events that happened.

      Like reading the book before watching the film, if you come in knowing a lot about the events and the characters, you may be sorely disappointed. But if you are new to the story, this is a fantastic way to discover it.
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