There are people around who remember when Jackie Robinson entered major league baseball by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. My father was one of them. As someone for whom ability trumped race, Daddy talked about Robinson's skills as a first baseball, a hitter, and most of all, his incredible speed and wily base stealing. He also mentioned the vile, violent reaction many people had to a black man desegregating white baseball.
Academy Award winning screenwriter Brian Helgeland directs 42, a baseball biopic about Jackie Robinson during his first season with the Dodgers. The subtitle is "The Story of an American Legend," and it rings true, because Robinson was. He was recruited by Dodgers owner Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) and told not to strike back. Played by Chadwick Boseman, Robinson simmers with rage at those who berate him, like Philadelphia's racist manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) and the members of his own team. He triumphs--but at great cost to his own health. The real Jackie Robinson died in 1972 at age 53 from complications with diabetes and heart disease.
Here's what the critics are saying:
It's a shameful chapter in sports history, and 42 honors Robinson's resistance. Sweet revenge comes on the field as 42 shows up the jerks by playing killer baseball, diving for a line drive or stealing a base, fist raised. Corny? You bet. Also inspiring. Is that enough? Given Helgeland's rep as a screenwriter (including an Oscar for 1997's L.A. Confidential), it rankles that 42 settles for the official story. The private Robinson, who died of a heart attack at 53 in 1972, stays private. We stay on the outside looking in. Let it be. At the top of a new baseball season, it's hard not to root for a movie that's in it for the love of the game. Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
Yet in one vital way, the movie feels very contemporary. When Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, spearheading the civil rights era before it had a name, he was subjected, on and off the field, to a degree of racial antagonism that could almost be called terrorism. For all its wholesomely uplifting, message-movie design, 42 makes that struggle look every bit as brutal and scary as it was. Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
Helgeland’s film is admirable in many ways. For one thing, it avoids turning Rickey into the Great White Hero who revolutionized the game singlehandedly. Rickey is portrayed positively, to be sure, and why not? It helps that Ford sinks his teeth into the best role he’s had in years. But Robinson is the real hero here, of course, and Helgeland never depicts him as otherwise. Bill Goodykontz, Arizona Republic
To be sure, there are scenes of racist fans heckling Robinson and many of his own teammates signing a petition demanding Robinson not be allowed to join the Dodgers — but “42” falls short in giving us a full measure of the man himself. The Jackie Robinson of “42” is a high school history lesson, lacking in complexity and nuance....From the soundtrack to the speechifying to the subject material to the script’s somber tone, “42” has the uniform of an Oscar contender, but it falls short of Hall of Fame status. Jackie Robinson was great. “42” is good. Richard Roeper, RogerEbert.com
42, the latest in a long line of movies about Jackie Robinson—a hero who defines the word heroic—finds a nice balance between the man and the game he played. It’s a perfectly unexceptional but slickly made, sincerely acted, often entertaining, sometimes manipulative and always watchable blend of action on the diamond and bravery behind the scenes that will please baseball fanatics more than movie historians. It’s a good enough biopic to make you wish it were a better motion picture. Rex Reed, New York Observer
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