Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Film Review: Brian Helgeland's 42

For anyone who knows and loves the game of baseball, be it a fan, a player or even a sports writer, it is hard not to feel romantic about the whole thing.   In Brian Helgeland's Jackie Robinson biopic, 42 (and if you do not know why the film is called 42, then you probably will not feel that inherent romanticism anyway), one surely gets this same feeling.  Granted, the film is rather standard fare, as far as cinema goes - you will never be stunned by anything artistic in the film - but that feeling of romanticism that comes with the love of the game is still quite intact, and that alone makes the film a worthwhile watch.

But even with such romanticism, 42 will not go into the annals of great baseball movies.  It does not have the thrills of The Natural or Bull Durham, nor the quiet tragedy of Eight Men Out.  It doesn't have the classic stoicism of Pride of the Yankees, nor does it have the charm of more recent fare, such as Moneyball and the criminally overlooked Sugar (the two best baseball films, if you ask me).  Hell, it doesn't even have the good times of Major League or The Bad News Bears.  What it does have is a very workingman ethic.  Nothing spectacular, but still a solid, well-done film.  The kind of motion picture that one can certainly be proud of, but not anything anyone would write home about. I suppose this is all a rather sidearmed compliment, but there ya go anyway.  Solid and structurally sound, but never anything to get too excited over - even when we see Jackie succeed at something that so many people do not want to see him succeed at.  Romantic indeed, but a middle-of-the-road romanticism.  As for the performances of all those involved, again it is a solid, workmanlike set of performances.  No one does a poor job, yet no one really shines either - which is really a shame considering the film is about one of the most exuberant and exciting players to ever play the game of baseball.  

As for the story, in case you do not know, Jackie Robinson, number 42 of the Brooklyn Dodgers (there's that title reason all you non-believers), is the player who broke the colour barrier of major league baseball.  A black man in, what was then a 100% white man's game.  We see the hardships with which the great Robinson had to deal with, and we see those who would want him to succeed, like Dodgers owner Branch Rickey (played with more workmanlike effect by Harrison Ford channeling an older Indiana Jones) and redneck team captain Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black in a typical Lucas Black performance), and those who would want him to fail, including teammates who would rather be traded than play ball with a negro, and a very vocal Phillies manager who would taunt Robinson with racist remarks while he was at bat.  Basically, to put it in the simplest and most generic terms, Jackie Robinson was the Rosa Parks of baseball, or, since Jackie came first, we could say Parks was the Jackie Robinson of the 1950's civil rights movement.  Obviously, Robinson succeeded, and is now a member of the baseball hall of fame, but in the film we only see the most tepid of outrages.  Helgeland never digs too deep into how it must have been for Robinson, and in turn the mostly unknown Chadwick Boseman never gets to do much with his character - though he too gives a solid, workmanlike performance, but never really stuns.  All-in-all, a good, but never great baseball movie.

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