The life story of Jackie Robinson and his history-making signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers under the guidance of team executive Branch Rickey.
Year 1, Day 282
BEFORE: Another slight alteration to the comedy plan for this month as another advanced screening opportunity has presented itself. Today I have the pleasure to be seeing 42, the film about the influential baseball player Jackie Robinson. Staring Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and Harrison Ford (last seen in Morning Glory) as Branch Rickey, this is a film I’ve been looking forward to for a while. It is bringing the great story of the integration of baseball to screen (one which I’m semi-familiar with; I’m sure I’ll be learning many new things) and is doing so on the Red Sox home opener (which they won!).
AFTER: One of the key lines in the film, and also seen in the trailer is this following exchange between Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey. Robinson asks, “You want a player who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?” Rickey replies, “No. I want a player who’s got the guts not to fight back.” This highlights both the highs and lows about this film. 42 is brilliantly told in terms of the biographical sense as well as a story in general. It also exemplifies the double-sided coin of the dialogue in the film: some is beautifully written and insightful, while other lines are predictable and don’t flow well.
Any fan of baseball or student of American history should know the story of Jackie Robinson. Almost everyone knows he was the first African American player in baseball and that he changed the course of the game. The greatest strength of 42 is how well it sets up the story and how well it develops it as it progresses. You understand what the game and society was like before in the early 1940s and where all these people are coming from as things build up to opening day 1947. Jackie’s character is crystal clear right from his first scene: one of many stolen bases. You see his determination, tenacity, and passion for the game all in facial expressions and his movements on the field. This goes a long way in establishing a solid foundation for the film for which it can build off of to create some tense and rewarding scenes as well as an overall sense of growth in the characters.
On the other side of the spectrum, not really - it’s more of a tossup - is the dialogue. As I mentioned earlier, the exchange above is a good example, there is some fantastic dialogue. Great dialogue should sound natural - as if that’s what the character would actually say - while also being highly insightful and meaningful. 42 has a few lines like these scattered throughout the film and fits in well with the style, but quite a bit just sounds awful. Early on I was just confused at why I wasn’t fully connecting with the film. It looked good and seemed to be structured well (with the prologue, setting subtitles, etc.) but something was off. Finally, about halfway through when Robinson and Rickey were alone on the baseball diamond and I knew what Robinson was going to say next, I realized this was the reason for that disconnect. It’s effective at getting the point of the film across, but it’s very expository. Besides these few bits of greatness, most of the talking is not just predictable, but it stops the film in it’s tracks taking the focus away from the parts that are really great.
42 is one of those films that I think will have a very special audience. Baseball fans or anyone even remotely interested in Jackie Robinson - the man, the myth, the legend - will probably find this highly entertaining. Back in October when I was watching a bunch of baseball films in honor of the playoffs, none really stood out as great baseball films - some were great films, just not in the baseball sense. 42 is really going to attract the baseball crowd, but I don’t see this attracting many others. Especially with the sub-par dialogue, this doesn’t strike me as the must-see film of the season.
42 opens in theaters this Friday, April 12, 2013.
RATING: 4 out of 5