Despite strengths, 42 falls flat in retelling Jackie Robinson's story
When I went to a screening of
My intention in screening
The film feels less like a whole than it does a series of vignettes, and it falls far too often into mythology and caricature to let you attach yourself to Chadwick Boseman's Jackie Robinson and Nicole Beharie's Rachel Robinson and appreciate their struggle. Not every virulent racist in the post-war South was old enough to remember Reconstruction. Not every black person of the era was calm and wise beyond their years. Branch Rickey wasn't a cross between Gandhi, Scrooge McDuck and your grandfather.
There are simply too many scenes in which the film is hitting you over the head with its message. A game at Crosley Field in Cincinnati is the background for a strong scene between Rickey (Harrison Ford) and Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black) in Rickey's office. That devolves into extended schmaltz once the teams take the field in Cincinnati, first with a father/son jeering experience and then as a famed, and possibly apocryphal, Reese/Robinson on-field moment that is extended to absurd lengths. The movie's final scene plays out as if director Brian Helgeland had his first sexual experience in a drive-in during the conclusion of
Boseman does what he can with what he's given, but the fundamental problem with playing Jackie Robinson is that the job is about not doing. Robinson was asked to swallow everything and ball it up inside, channeling everything into winning baseball games. Boseman is a believable baserunner and fielder, so the film doesn't get bogged down in the usual problem of having a star play a baseball player so poorly that it's distracting. No, the problem Boseman has is that the rest of the time, the nature of the character he's inhabiting means there isn't much for him to do. The one occasion in which he's allowed to express his emotions rings completely untrue.
Because of this, Boseman is at his best when playing opposite Nicole Beharie as his wife, Rachel. The best parts of the movie are when the two of them are alone on camera. Despite there not being nearly enough exploration of their relationship, every scene between them feels real. A movie that allowed for more of them, and less time at the ballpark, would have been a more interesting exploration of what it was like for Jackie Robinson in 1947. In that same vein, there wasn't enough interplay between Robinson and his teammates, although one scene with Hamish Linklater as Ralph Branca is a highlight -- and provides much-needed humor.
Ford plays Rickey as if he studied very, very hard for the role, and wanted to not be seen as Harrison Ford on screen. (When off camera, his voice sounded so much like that of John Goodman as to be distracting.) Ford succeeds, but in doing so, creates a Rickey who lacks any subtlety or nuance.
But for the extensive -- and absolutely necessary -- use of vile racial epithets,