In 1947, Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) made his Major League Baseball debut as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Not only was Jackie a singularly gifted athlete, this move was especially huge because he was the first black man to play in the Big Leagues. 42 tells the tale of how Dodgers owner Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) brought Robinson along and displays the trials and tribulations he went through in his effort to change the game forever.
I really wanted to love 42. The movie made my top ten anticipated of the year list, I have a great appreciation for Robinson's legacy, and I think baseball is the best sport in terms of translation to film. This is just such an incredible story that badly needs to be told. Unfortunately, however, (and I'll tread lightly here) the finished product is incredibly flawed and doesn't come close to achieving what it could have. As writer and director, Brian Helgeland (whose IMDB resume is very confusing) chose to take his film in the wrong direction more often than not. The dialogue is bad in a lot of places, the characters are poorly developed, and the general narrative (this is basically told from the perspective of Branch Rickey, not Robinson) doesn't feel right. 42 is being billed as a biopic but really it's a fictionalization of the better parts of one man's life. That is to say, if you took this film at face value, you would have no choice but to assume Jackie Robinson was the perfect human who didn't have a single flaw. That's not to say he was a bad person (OBVIOUSLY) but I prefer my biopics to be realistic, not fantasy, and I think this film suffers from that lack of realism. The whole film is very black and white (no pun intended) and doesn't allow for any shades of gray.
42 is saved, however, by the excellent cast, namely Boseman himself. Wow. This is truly a powerhouse performance that brings to mind thoughts of Denzel Washington in his prime. His portrayal is strong and intense and he alone elevates the film from "passable" to "must see." Ford, while iffy in the early going, displays moments of greatness and while the surrounding actors get nothing in the way of character development, their performances are mostly admirable. In essence, 42 isn't the film that Robinson deserves but Boseman's performance is exactly the portrayal he deserves. Grade: B+ (Rated PG-13 for occasionally rampant racist terminology and general intensity)