42 (Brian Helgeland, 2013)
There’s nothing wrong with this movie that a little soundtrack editing wouldn’t fix. That and a harsher spotlight thrown on the racism – personal and institutional – of the time. The film has great intentions, and great performances, and tells a story that reminds us how recently our nation still promoted segregation, yet it ultimately doesn’t quite do full justice to the bravery and struggle of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American baseball player to join the Major League.
But that said, this is still a very enjoyable, and even important, picture. Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, the General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers who led the charge to hire Robinson, is pleasantly gruff and charming, and both Chadwick Boseman and Nicole Beharie, as Jackie and Rachel Robinson, give solid, fully realized performances. You believe their relationship, and you believe in their strength. They are human, and not just icons. The rest of the cast of supporting characters, which includes Andre Holland, Hamish Linklater, Christopher Meloni, and Alan Tudyk, is equally adept at fleshing out their own roles. It’s nice, too, that the on-screen baseball players, including Boseman, look like they actually know how to play ball.
As far as biopics go, it’s a well told story, moving and entertaining in all the right ways.
It just has too much damn swelling music at too many times (begone, Mark Isham!), and makes the racism that Robinson faced go away a little too easily and quickly. Perhaps if the writer/director, Brian Helgeland, had not chosen to compress the bulk of the story to Robinson’s first year in the Majors, he would have been better able to show the greater complexity of the acceptance process. Still, if the film’s simple narrative arc makes the story more accessible to more people, then that is not necessarily a bad thing.