Friday, April 19, 2013

42 - Theatrical Review

Release Date: April 12, 2013

'42' is a rousing tribute to an American legend.

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: AMC 16 Tyler Galleria
Time: 12:55 pm April 13, 2013   
Projector Type: Digital 2D  
Film Rating: PG-13   
Film Runtime: 2 hr 8 min
Studio: Warner Bros.

Loves: Baseball movies
Likes: Harrison Ford, biopics
Neutral: Baseball the sport
Hates: Most sports
Rarity: A true story is actually true

Writer Director Brian Helgeland's inspirational new film, "42" tells the true story of how American sports legend Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) was found and courted by Brooklyn Dodgers team executive Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) to join the 1947 team roster to help bring the Dodgers into the imminent future of non-segregated Major League Baseball and how Robinson not only stood up to the many challenges and hardships that forging a path for others to follow brought about, but how he made history by being one of the best players whoever played the game.

Baseball has given us some of the greatest athletes of all time; Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Nolan Ryan and Babe Ruth just to name a few. But despite their many great accomplishments in the sport of baseball, they all had one thing in common that most took for granted at the time, they were all white men. It's one thing to be good at a sport, it's an entire other thing to be great at a sport while also paving the way towards a future, that while inevitable and extremely overdue, that many didn't want and would result in such an uproar across the nation that would not only put his talent to the test, but also his resolve.

That is exactly what this retelling of the trials and tribulations of American legend Jackie Robinson sets out to do, to remind us of who this iconic man is, the many struggles he faced and more importantly how he faced them. But there in lies the one and only flaw of the film, it's predictable nature and by the numbers conventional storytelling. It may sound like sacrilege to denounce a film telling the true story of such an influential cultural icon as conventional, but nearly every single encounter and incident depicted in "42" is right out of racially oppressed handbook. This isn't meant to make light of such a significant moment in American history or the hardships of the people who fought against said oppression, but it still needs to be said that much of what we see Robinson go through is simply indicative of the times and not very surprising. 

What is surprising though is how poignant many of these moments are. Moments like during the outset of Robinson's major league career in the Montreal Royals where we are witness to the numerous racial encounters that both him and his wife Rachel, played by the lovely Nicole Beharie, are subjugated to. How Jackie must turn the other cheek when faced with bigot after bigot on his road to fame and then later when Jackie does eventually join the Dodger's and how his team alienates him and even draws up a petition to have him removed. These moments, while hardly revelatory of the time, are needed. These are the events that helped shape and influence the life of Jackie Robinson, so even though we have been inundated with these same set of circumstances in other similarly themed stories of that era, they aren't any less relevant here.

In one of the film's most cringe worthy and flamboyantly racist moments, we are given a front row seat to just an inkling of the immense amount of outright hatred that was thrown his way. During a game against the Philadelphia Phillies, we see as Robinson is made the victim of the Phillies' manager Ben Chapman's (played with a despicable glee by the very talented Alan Tudyk) constant heckling with a slur of racist remarks that would be enough to send anyone over the deep end. It is an ugly and moronic display of staggering degree that is difficult to sit through but does a fantastic job of putting us in that moment with Jackie to feel first hand his pain.

While that scene is likely just an amalgamation of incidents that Robinson was forced to endure, and this isn't the first time we have seen a Southern white man show off his ignorance either, it serves as a remarkable character moment for not only Jackie but also a turning point for the team itself and their feelings towards him. Like the rest of the film, it may be a little on the nose but it gets its point across and helps get the audience into the appropriate state of mind that will likely result in plenty of cheers as Jackie forges onward into sports history.

This uphill battle is needed however. We needed to see what obstacles laid before Jackie that he must overcome and it is to the film's credit, as well as Hegleland's screenplay and direction, that even though we have seen these scenarios play out time and time again before, the film never dwells on any of it unless it is used specifically to fuel a moment that requires such content. It is used sparingly thankfully and is only there merely as a reminder to us and nothing more.

But where the real magic of the film lies is in its actors, or more specifically the star making performance by Boseman as Jackie Robinson and a surprisingly powerful Harrison Ford in the supporting role as Rickey. Boseman shows an inner strength as Robinson that is nothing short of inspiring. He shines in the role and pays proper respect towards the sports legend we have come to idolize as well as to the man behind the legend that most of us have never known.

As for Harrison Ford, well let's just say it has been an awfully long time since he has seemed this invigorated about any role in any film he was a part of. We can speculate all we like as to the reason why he decided to show a pulse again, but it is much more constructive to just bask in the amount of warmth and heart he brings to the table here. If he isn't given a best supporting actor nod it will be a crying shame because even an optimist has to believe it is highly unlikely we are going to get this level of enthusiasm out of the aging actor again anytime soon.

Baseball represents a time in our nation's history when everyone of every age, race or background could come together and enjoy something together, when there was no television, internet or even any other sports to occupy our time. "42" in turn is a rousing reminder of a time when that ideology finally came to fruition, where everyone actually did come together for a single event. Where a solitary individual by the name of Jackie Robinson, whose courage was immeasurable and talent was unquestionable, won over an entire country by being the best man he could be and by playing the game he was put on this Earth to play.

Comprised of two stand out performances and made with just a sheer love for the sport itself, Hegleland's ode to one of the greatest and most significant athletes to ever play the game of baseball is a good natured film that despite some conventional storytelling triumphs as one of the most inspirational and rousing experiences of the year that reminds us of where we are and how we got here.





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