Robinson biopic ’42’ cannot quite hit it out of park

By Andrew Canales

It’s not director Brian Helgeland’s fault. There wasn’t much he could do to avoid becoming the newest member of the fraternity of directors to turn an extraordinary story into a very ordinary movie.

By no means is “42” a bad film. It’s a perfectly fine baseball movie with a couple solid performances by Harrison Ford, as Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, and Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson, but its overly romanticized re-telling of Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier sets it back.

Robinson’s story is one that has been stuck in the history books for far too long and “42” breathes new life into it.

Its depiction of the circus Robinson’s presence brought to big league stadiums across the country was well done, only to be outdone by some overwrought dialogue.

Boseman looks the part; there’s no denying that. But have you ever heard Robinson’s voice? Look up Robinson’s appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. There was no gravel in his voice, no scruff in his speech.

Boseman’s rendition adds character where it isn’t needed. Nevertheless, the chemistry between he and Nicole Beharie (Rachel Robinson) is magnetizing.

The most glaring mistake in terms of historical accuracy is the portrayal of the pure hatred that greeted Jackie and his family everywhere he went. Sure, the pirate from “Dodgeball” heckled him from the Philadelphia dugout, but where were the death threats (there was a brief mention of notes), where were the breakdowns? (There was one.)

Imagine Pixar did a PG-13 movie on Jackie Robinson and you’re there.

Biopics are interesting. Some are untouchable because their subjects are exhausted and others are untouchable because the stories don’t translate to film. Jackie Robinson doesn’t fit into either of those categories, making “42”‘s presence alone a win for moviegoers and baseball fans alike.

Robinson makes an easy hero, hence the Disney-like treatment he receives in the film.

The score was a mix of era-specific tunes and triumphant themes, but did not include Jay-Z’s “Brooklyn Go Hard,” which was the main track used in advertising the film. The track was the theme for “Notorious,” the Biggie Smalls biopic, so maybe that had something to do with it.

The easy comparison to make is to Billy Crystal’s “61*,” which gave a similar homage to baseball history, only this time following Roger Maris’ (Barry Pepper) home run record in 1961. Simply put, “42” stacks up well.

Boseman does just as good a job as Robinson as Pepper did as Maris, although “61*” portrayed a story that had a definitive start and end. Maris’ ’61 season came and went and re-wrote the history of home runs.

Robinson’s 1947 season was the beginning of a Hall-of-Fame career, a blip on the radar of a tenure that changed the landscape of American sports. “42” faced a much more daunting challenge. And it didn’t fail.

Rating: 3.5/5

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Courtesy Legendary Pictures

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