Classic Review: 42 (2013)
“42” stars Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie, Christopher Meloni, André Holland, Lucas Black, Hamish Linklater, and Ryan Merriman. Released on April 12, 2013, the film follows the accomplishments of baseball player Jackie Robinson.
The film was written and directed by Brian Helgeland, who also directed “Payback”, “A Knight’s Tale”, “The Order”, and “Legend”. For an occasion like this, I think now is the time for me to look at one of the films that honor some of the legends from the African American culture. One legend in particular had the courage to end racial segregation in the baseball community and inspire others to put more focus on racial equality, and his name was Jackie Robinson. Without him, the world of baseball wouldn’t be what it is today. There were at least a couple of attempts to adapt Robinson’s life story as a feature film. Spike Lee was originally attached to write and direct the project in 1995, and Robert Redford was set to produce it in 2004, but both of these attempts fell apart, resulting in Brian Helgeland taking over the helms in 2011 under the distribution deal with Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures. It was then released to the public two years later to positive reviews from critics and became a modest success at the box office, earning over $97 million worldwide against the production budget of $40 million. This was something that I was planning on revisiting for my blog for quite some time not just because of the “Black Lives Matter” scenario, but also because of how much I loved it. I remembered watching it for the first time with my sister in a sold-out theater and immediately recognized how well this story was told in a PG-13-rated manner. My sister and I enjoyed it so much that I wound up getting the film on Blu-ray. Plus, it was the film that introduced me to Chadwick Boseman, who went on to portray a couple more real-life historical figures like James Brown and Thurgood Marshall and join the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Black Panther after his success with “42”. Yeah, it was a good day for me to be a film lover. So, how does this sports biopic held up in my critical eyes? Let’s travel back to the 1940s and find out.
The story focuses on the life-changing career of Jackie Robinson (Boseman), a baseball player who is chosen by Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey (Ford) to play in the Major Leagues, resulting in him becoming the first African American player to play in the MLB (Major League Baseball). From playing with the Montreal Royals to leading the Dodgers to the World Series, Robinson faces several race-related challenges that happen on and off the baseball field. What makes Robinson such an iconic person is not just his undeniable talent in baseball, but also his personality. He didn’t let anyone bring him down with their racist remarks and their awful actions towards him. His acts of kindness and respect towards others showed the baseball community that generosity is the only path to victory and that everyone is equal regardless of their skin color. As I mentioned before, I loved every minute of “42” during my first viewing, mostly because of the cast and its inspiring storytelling. Those major things are what made it one of my favorite baseball movies of all time. Looking back at it now as a film critic, I can see that it’s not exactly a perfect sports biopic, but it still holds up well as an important and well-acted baseball drama that honors Robinson’s accomplishments. The only thing that kept it from being an A+ movie was its screenplay. On the one hand, the script has plenty of moments that offer some respectable dialogue and heartfelt drama. On the other hand, it didn’t exactly transcend beyond its genre tropes nor further explore its social commentary in an emotional light. People who wanted a Jackie Robinson biopic with stronger storytelling may feel a bit disappointed with this one, but if you don’t mind this flaw, there’s a good chance that you’ll find plenty to enjoy. I can understand that some of its mild sequences may become a problem for some viewers, but I think the reason why Brian Helgeland went with this direction was because he wanted to make the film accessible to people of all ages, especially kids. It’s important for children to learn this type of stuff. While the execution was far from perfect, the film is suitable enough to show to your kids without making them feel uncomfortable with its themes. What kept the film going for me in terms of storytelling was Helgeland’s direction. Despite missing some of its emotional beats, I thought he did a good job at balancing the film’s themes with some of its light-hearted moments, which goes to show that biopics don’t always need to be overly serious to be great. Sometimes, you just need the good moments to go along with the bad. You know, like life itself. The performances from the cast were also top-notch, most notably Boseman as Jackie Robinson. Boseman had that specific soul in his performance that made his character endearing, but also vulnerable. The film portrays Robinson as a person who enjoys playing the sport he loves, but is struggling to keep his cool around other people who were against him being in the same field as the white players. With all that talent Boseman had to play this type of character, it’s no wonder why he was chosen to sing several songs from James Brown and become a Marvel superhero. Harrison Ford also delivered one of his best performances in his career as Branch Rickey. His strict and scruffy voice was well-balanced with a character who wasn’t afraid to do the impossible despite the controversy he’ll wind up getting. I also want to point out the elephant in the room, which is Alan Tudyk as Phillies manager Ben Chapman. Tudyk’s performance was obviously respectable, but it was his character that I both appreciate and hate. Chapman served as an example of how society treats people of color during that time period in the most distasteful way possible, which I thought served the film’s purpose quite well. I am not kidding, once Chapman opens his big mouth, you will immediately despise him like he was the plague. I like what they did with this character from a critical perspective, but from my normal perspective, his actions made me want to smash his head in with a baseball bat. It’s like having a love/hate relationship with someone. You like them because of their appeal, but you also hate their attitude.
Overall, “42” is far from a grand slam, but it’s still an entertaining baseball drama that’s both inspirational and heartwarming. While its screenplay didn’t delve deep into its social commentary and Robinson’s personal life, the film was able to hit a couple of home runs thanks to its superb cast, Helgeland’s direction, and its heartfelt messages. It’s an endearing biopic that honors the struggles Robinson faced in his baseball career and the spirit of the sport itself. It’s understandable that the film didn’t exactly do anything special with the genre in terms of storytelling, but thankfully, it didn’t take away my love for it. I will always appreciate this film for its themes and the incredible talent from the cast regardless of what anybody says about it. For those who haven’t seen it yet, it’s worth checking out.
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