Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

April 17, 2013

‘42’ tells an important story in an uninteresting way

Ryan Maddux & Andy Stuckey
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — This week we look at the sports biopic 42 (PG-13).  Based upon the legendary life of Jackie Robinson, 42 looks at Robinson’s integration of Major League Baseball in the late 1940’s.  

Chadwick Boseman stars as the Dodger second baseman with Harrison Ford playing Dodger owner Branch Rickey. Brian Helgeland directs.

Ryan: Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947 is the most important thing to ever happen to American professional sports. It was an act that transcended the sporting world. It would not be a reach to argue that Robinson’s dignified integration of baseball helped lay the foundation of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and ‘60’s. The importance and legacy of Jackie Robinson is not being overstated. With all that said, the movie 42 does not quite reach the height of its subject matter. This is hardly the first (nor will it be the last) time that Hollywood has made an ordinary movie about an extraordinary individual.

Andy: The importance and power of Jackie Robinson’s accomplishment is perhaps part of what makes 42 so frustrating. This is a story that deserves the full treatment of a great American film. And it does not get that treatment here. The movie gets off to a shaky start when the title card pops up before the first scene letting us know that, “The following is based on actual events.” This may seem like a little thing, but it is a tone that maintains throughout the movie. The inherent power of the story makes for a pretty acceptable movie, but it consistently under-performs.

Ryan: I do give the film credit for being earnest. It has its heart in the right place. The movie treats its subject matter with reverence — but I would argue with too much reverence as Robinson is portrayed more as a symbol and an ideal than as a flesh and blood man. One gets glimpses as Robinson’s inner struggle, but those are few and far between. Sanitized is probably not the right word, but I feel that the movie’s tone is more after-school-special than adult drama. Yes the movie captures the important lessons of Robinson’s journey and it frames the seriousness of his struggle in a proper manner but one could have hoped for more of an edge and intensity when dealing with such a significant historical moment.

Andy: It is funny to think of a movie that is riddled with racial slurs as having a made-for-TV feel to it, but that is an accurate description. There is a lack of depth to the characters that makes the movie feel like its main objective is to touch on the historical highlights. While that is obviously important, making it seem like real people overcoming real problems would result in a more authentic, and therefore a more powerful film. Adding to the inauthentic feel is Mark Isham’s overly aggressive score that telegraphs the emotion of each scene.

Ryan: Though he’s been in several television shows, this is Chadwick Boseman’s first big theatrical film. When one plays an iconic character, the expectations can be daunting. Overall he does what he can with the part. He captures the stoic dignity of Robinson, but Boseman doesn’t present the character traits in a charismatic manner. Off the field, I don’t know how magnetic Robinson was or wasn’t but when making a biopic one has to present the main character in an alluring manner. I don’t feel like we really ever get to know, completely, the real Jackie Robinson. And that is cinematically frustrating.

Andy: Another distraction that the film has a hard time overcoming is the performance of Harrison Ford. While Branch Rickey was notoriously gruff and surly, Ford’s performance ranges from convincing to downright unintentionally comical. His tone that is sometimes just not right sums up the issues with the movie. It is hit or miss, but this is too important of a story to be telling it in such an uneven way.  

42 an average film that does not live up to the compelling nature of the story that it is attempting to tell, earning a mediocre C+.