I’ll admit, I’m not much of a sports guy. My sports career consisted of a year or two of tee-ball as a preschooler, and I spent most of that time looking for four-leaf clovers in the outfield. These days, I’ll watch the Olympics and the occasional game of football or baseball. Other than that, I’m fairly indifferent to sports as a whole.
Even so, I can appreciate it when sports change history. And one of those occasions was the signing of Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player on a white team. Despite significant opposition from those who liked the status quo, Robinson gave the Brooklyn Dodgers everything he had, living out one of the greatest careers in the history of baseball. And now, there’s a movie about him, named after the number on his uniform: 42.
The man himself is played by Chadwick Boseman, who has spent most of his acting career in television shows such as Persons Unknown, Lincoln Heights, Castle, and Fringe. His wife Rachel is portrayed by Nicole Beharie, who has starred in such films as American Violet, Shame, and The Express. And the team’s manager Branch Rickey is none other than Harrison Ford. That’s right, the man who is Indiana Jones, Han Solo, Blade Runner, Jack Ryan, and the President of the United States is in this movie. The movie just got that much more awesome. Finally, the director and screenwriter is Brian Helgeland, whose major directing achievement so far has been A Knight’s Tale. This could get very interesting. But is this film worth your time? Well, let’s take a look at the trailer and find out. (To follow along, go to YouTube and watch “42 Official Trailer #2.)
We open on a shot of the New York skyline, because we wouldn’t know the film takes place in New York City if we didn’t see the Empire State Building at least once. Jackie tells his son about how his father left him and how he will be remembered. Then we see him signing with the Dodgers and … wait a minute, was that Harrison Ford? Seriously, I had to watch the trailer a couple of times to be sure. That’s the least like Harrison Ford I’ve ever seen him look; he almost looks like too small a man to be Ford. He’s really managed to disappear into this role, showing again his great acting ability (can you tell yet that he’s one of my favorite actors?). Anyway, someone off-screen says, “Think about the abuse he’s going to take.” And then the following montage shows him taking zero abuse. Nice editing, guys.
A reporter asks Jackie what he’ll do if someone throws a ball at his head, and Jackie replies, “I’ll duck.” The reporter laughs like it’s a joke, but what’s so funny about that? If someone throws a ball at your head and you don’t duck, either you’re an idiot or you have ridiculously slow reflexes. I should know; both have been true of me from time to time. Then an announcer says that “Negroes will run the white man straight out of baseball.” Maybe I missed something, but from what I’ve seen of baseball, the players are still predominantly white; if anything, Hispanics are taking the field these days. I guess the Negroes got distracted by football and basketball along the way.
We see the beginning of opposition toward Jackie, and the coach (at least I think that’s the coach) stands up for him by yelling at his players and throwing things. Seriously, he throws pots and pans around, he slams lockers, and he’s still one of the calmest baseball coaches I’ve ever seen. And then we cut to Jackie Robinson not ducking. Yeah, how’s that plan working for you, Jackie? Some old white guy in a uniform tells Jackie that “The Brooklyn Dodgers ain’t changing our way of living.” Clearly this was before cable television, recliners, and remote controls. All that and the Brooklyn Dodgers changed a lot of Dodgers fans’ way of living but good.
As the pressure increases, Harrison tells Jackie that he has to have the guts not to fight back, because he’s got to look after Princess Leia and … oh, wait, wrong movie. Jackie replies, “You give me a number on my back, I’ll give you the guts.” But if you don’t give me a number, I’m going all Mr. T on these suckers, fool!
And then the trailer breaks into a rap. Because, you know, he’s black. And black people and rap just go together, I guess. Yeah, that’s fine; it’s not like we were going for a period feel to this movie or anything. We couldn’t have used something like jazz or the blues; it had to be a musical genre which did not exist in this setting. Maybe it’s just personal taste, but it’s always been a pet peeve of mine when movies break into pop songs and rap for no good reason. In films like The Chronicles of Narnia, Oz the Great and Powerful, and Mirror Mirror, the pop songs over the credits always seemed out of place; they never fit into the setting. The trailer for Gangster Squad, another period piece, also features a rap for no apparent reason, and that song makes even less sense than the one in this trailer. At least this rap talks about Jackie Robinson: “I jack, I rob, I sin, oh man, I’m Jackie Robinson!” Yeah, this guy is aware he’s rapping about a baseball player and not a gang member, right?
But the rap leads us through the closing montage. In an incredible feat of acrobatics, Jackie leaps over the catcher to land on home plate. It’s a cool scene, but completely pointless. The catcher clearly touches him, so he’s out. Admittedly, I never saw the ball in the catcher’s hand, but if he didn’t have the ball, why is he jumping over the guy? But as more people tell him to stay off the baseball field, Jackie declares, “I’m not going anywhere; I’m right here!” Which is a problem since he doesn’t appear to be on the field and he’s wearing a suit. Get your uniform on and go play baseball, genius! To wrap things up, one of the players tells Jackie, “Maybe tomorrow we’ll all wear 42.” It’s a nice sentiment, and it does happen one game a year even today, but doesn’t that make it impossible for the crowd in the stands to tell any of the players apart? Well, except for the one guy who already wears 42. But that’s because, as I’ve mentioned before, he’s black.
So would I recommend 42? I don’t see a reason why not. Jackie Robinson’s story of success is definitely one worth celebrating, especially for baseball fans and for anyone who wants to learn more about the Civil Rights movement. Plus the movie stars Harrison Ford, so that’s a great added bonus. 42 is rated PG-13, so I’ll caution parents to use discretion before taking their kids to see it. But for older members of the audience, especially sports fans and history buffs, this film looks very promising. Will I see it in theaters? I don’t think so. As I said before, I’m not a sports fan, so this film doesn’t have the same appeal as Star Trek 2 or Iron Man 3. But once it comes out on DVD, I’ll probably give it a look.
What do you think? Did this review spark your interest, or did it turn you off of the film? Was I fair to the movie, or did I miss an opportunity for a joke? Let me know in the comments, and if you see the movie, by all means let me know how it was!
42 is owned by Warner Bros.