I love that they called the movie 42. There are enough movies with names for titles, even some with Jack (Jack Reacher recently, and Jackie Brown, Quentin Tarantino’s best movie). Having a number for a title just…looks cool to me. Not Se7en. That was kind of goofy with the spelling, but think Bo Derek’s 10. Or to stick with a baseball theme, Billy Crystal’s 61*, about the home run record that Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle were chasing (61 is both the year and the number of home runs).
I’m not one of those baseball nuts that takes stats on everything (unless it’s movie related). I am a fan of the Negro Leagues and that part of history with baseball. I would’ve preferred a film on Satchel Paige. He’s not the household name Robinson is, and should be. Woody Allen even named the kid he didn’t marry after him. I guess since The Jackie Robinson Story came out in 1950, we’re ready for a new take on this baseball hero (ESPN is also doing a version, with Robert Redford playing Branch Rickey).
In this version, Harrison Ford plays Rickey. He had reasons to want to break the color barrier that weren’t all the goodness of his heart.
I loved listening to him go through the other players considered, yet I would’ve enjoyed seeing more of Robinson’s back story. Perhaps some real clips of him as the 4-sport star he was at UCLA, or a little more about how he joined the Kansas City Monarchs.
All of us locals know that Padres announcer Jerry Coleman was one of only two Major League players to serve in two wars (the late Ted Williams, another local, was the other). Yet I’m guessing most don’t know that Robinson was a lieutenant during World War II.
Instead, we get black and white footage of the war, and families sitting around the TV watching wholesome entertainment like Abbott & Costello doing the Who’s on First? Problem was…at the time they were showing, not many people owned TVs and Abbott & Costello were still a few years away from having a TV show.
I’ve always said Harrison Ford was a weak actor, but he wisely picks roles he can play and has the right look for. In this, he actually showed some acting chops.
I like that the Robinson’s were played by actors I wasn’t familiar with (Chadwick Boseman, Nicole Beharie). This is a break-out role for Boseman. Beharie really isn’t given much to do but be the angelic cheerleader for her husband.
When Robinson goes to Florida for spring training, I loved the scene that shows his manager’s racism. It was quickly put in check by Rickey. There’s another manager we meet later that is so despicable, it’s hard to watch. Yet it’s also something we should watch. And when I see scenes like this, and I’m enjoying actors that look like real ball players – it’s almost sunk by the horribly done scenes. One involves a boy in the stands watching his dad yell racial slurs. There’s also a scene where future Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese puts his arm around Robinson in his hometown. He had just seen his first death threat for having a black teammate, and Rickey shows him the hundreds they’ve been receiving. It was such a moving moment. Ford even talked about that scene on Letterman the other night when Dave mentioned how moving it was. That got me doing some research, and guess what? That never happened. So, we watch this movie about an amazing man, but his real life accomplishments still needed the Hollywood fictionalized treatment. Incredible.
Lucas Black (remember the boy from Sling Blade?) is great playing Reese, and character actor Alan Tudyk is good as the racist Phillies manager.
The attention to detail involving the sets and costumes is outstanding.
Although the script was rather lightweight and almost seemed like the Disney version of the Jackie Robinson story, it wasn’t as corny as it could’ve been. I expected a bit more from screenwriter Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidenetial, Mystic River, Payback, The Postman). And having myself written a script about the Negro Leagues and being a fan of these early ballplayers – it was right in my wheelhouse. It’s a flawed movie, but one that everyone will enjoy.
I’m giving it 3 stars out of 5.