Director: Brian Helgeland
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Studio: Warner Bros
Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie
Apparently, it’s possible to make a shiny, glossy, upbeat movie about racism. The
evidence is on display in theaters showing 42, writer-director Brian
Helgeland’s enjoyable, inspirational, very Hollywood sports movie
in which Harrison Ford plays the trailblazing Brooklyn Dodgers general manager
who in the mid-1940s broke the so-called color barrier by recruiting Jackie
Robinson to his lily-white team.
Robinson is a rich, if tricky, subject—a complex, opinionated, justifiably bristly man who has long been canonized as the civil rights icon and legend that he was. The movie wisely narrows its focus to 1947, a year during which Robinson, Jim Crow and segregation are in full, ugly swing. In that one year, Robinson found not only glory but also condescension, ridicule and stomach-churning “tolerance.” But unless you're going to treat biography as hagiography, it’s important to find the warts, the glory, the beating heart and the humanity under those larger-than-life trappings.
Playing Robinson, actor/playwright Chadwick Boseman is a strong, compelling presence capable of filling in the blanks when the movie around him feels too polite, its rough edges sanded down. Boseman’s scenes with teammates and cronies—Christopher Meloni as Leo Durocher, Andre Holland as sportswriter Wendell Smith, a terrific Alan Tudyk as racist Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman and Lucas Black as ace shortstop Pee Wee Reese—are among the best in the movie. The recently dour Harrison Ford, as Rickey, is in full-throttle Jack Nicholson or, more to the point, John Goodman mode here. Waggling his bushy brows, chawing on a cigar, Ford may be hickory-cured ham but at least he’s lively and a hell of a lot of fun.
The movie's sentimentality may be overblown, its production values overly gleaming, but, when it comes to delivering lump-in-the-throat moments, 42 scores a big, fat, emotional home run.