Apr 11, 2013, 3:30 PM EDT
We all know the story, I hope: baseball, due to an odious “gentleman’s agreement,” kept itself segregated and lily white for 50-60 years. Branch Rickey, as general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, set out in the mid 1940s to find just “the right man” — meaning a black man — to bring to the major leagues, thereby breaking that color barrier. Jackie Robinson was the right man. He made his major league debut in 1947, standing up to and utterly transcending the petty and hateful moods of the day, making the racists look like the retrograde buffoons they were, kicking off a Hall of Fame major league career and changing baseball — and America — forever.
But the fact that we all know that story creates one small problem: how in the heck do you make a movie out of it that delivers anything fresh, new or even the least bit suspenseful? With a fantastic hero and a fantastic story — which has the added benefit of being 100% true — at their disposal, this was the challenge for the makers of “42.” They did a good job with it. Not a great job. But a good job. One that’s worth the price of admission but that isn’t quite the Oscar-bait or piece of importance you get the sense they think they made.
The central problem with the film is a problem you see with almost all biopics: characters who appear to be overly-aware that they’re in a biopic. To be sure, Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson and others knew for a fact that what they were doing was historically significant. But I’m struggling to imagine how the real Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey could ever have carried on a couple year’s worth of conversations in which every other phrase was a platitude or a grand declaration underscoring just how significant everything was. Yes, a filmaker needs a shorthand way to convey years’ worth of information and drama in a 115-minute film, but Harrison Ford’s Rickey and Chadwick Boseman’s Robinson often seem more like robots from a living history museum than real people.
Which isn’t to say that their performances aren’t good. In fact, in many ways they’re quite wonderful. Chadwick Boseman impresses as Robinson, especially in the baseball scenes. Actors frequently screw up baseball movies due to their inability to, you know, play baseball (I’m looking at you Tim Robbins, Tony Danza and many, many others), but Boseman captures Robinson’s essence as a ballplayer. Most impressively his running style and the way in which he terrorized pitchers trying to hold him on. While the thinner-bodied Boseman isn’t exactly a close physical match for Robinson, not once while watching him do you not believe he is, in fact, Jackie Robinson. That’s something that an awful lot of biopics screw up (I’m looking at you Leo DiCaprio in “The Aviator” and Jack Nicholson in “Hoffa”).
Harrison Ford is another matter. Much has been made about how he has hammed it up as Rickey. And yes, it is a bit jarring at first to see a longtime leading man like Ford putting on such a mannered, almost gimmicky performance. But over the course of the film Ford’s Rickey grew on me. It’s weird. You never forget that you’re watching Harrison Ford playing someone who is, more or less, Branch Rickey. But you can tell Ford had a lot of fun doing it and that sense of fun helps lighten things up somewhat in a film with many difficult and often uncomfortable scenes. And, strangely enough, knowing that it’s Harrison Ford there under those bushy eyebrows — Han Solo! Indiana Jones! Jack Ryan! The President of the United States! — adds some gravitas to a character which demands some gravitas.
With a sometimes ponderous script on one side and some winning performances on the other, what puts this movie over as a good one? The decision to focus most of the film’s attention on the baseball. After a couple of opening scenes set in offices, most of the rest of what’s important in “42” happens on the diamond, and those scenes look and feel great. Thanks to some nifty CGI Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds, Forbes Field and Crosley Field look so real you’d think you’ve stepped into a time machine. The game play feels real too. Maybe a bit minor league (I know Robinson was fast, but man, those catchers couldn’t have thrown THAT poorly back then) but what is often a weakness in baseball movies — the actual baseball — is a strength here.
Other strengths: winning supporting performances from Alan Tudyk as Phillies manager Ben Chapman, John C. McGinley as Red Barber and Christopher Meloni as Leo Durocher. Tudyk is absolutely (and appropriately) horrifying as the racist Chapman. McGinley delivers Barber’s signature catch phrases (“in the catbird seat” and “tighter than a new pair of shoes on a rainy day”) as if they weren’t signature catch phrases, putting you in mind of a radio listener in 1947. Meloni’s Durocher takes a few more liberties — I sincerely doubt the real Durocher casually dropped things like “nice guys finish last” at the end of random phone calls — but he conveys Durocher’s larger-than-life persona in a few key scenes.
Ultimately, “42” is a good baseball movie which delivers on the baseball but not so much on the movie. History tells us what happened, so it can only do so much to be even a little bit suspenseful or surprising. And the format almost requires conversations to be exercises in exposition rather than true, character-driven dialogue. For this reason it doesn’t enter the baseball movie pantheon and, at times, can be a bit of a slog. But it’s definitely worth your time and your money.
Jul 30, 2014, 8:23 AM EDT
It was a long game, but it had a good ending.
Jul 30, 2014, 7:24 AM EDT
The Yankees and Rangers gave us a retro night in Arlington.
Jul 29, 2014, 11:17 PM EDT
Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times passes along the fantastic news that Vin Scully will return to the Dodgers’ broadcast booth for the 2015 season. It will be his 65th season calling Dodgers baseball.
Jul 29, 2014, 10:50 PM EDT
Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan wrote Tuesday afternoon that “sentiment among competing executives is unanimous” that the Red Sox will trade left-hander Jon Lester before Thursday’s July 31 deadline. And this news will only add to that thought.
Jul 29, 2014, 10:21 PM EDT
Watch as White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu slugs a two-run seventh-inning shot off new Tigers reliever Joakim Soria on Tuesday night at Comerica Park in Detroit …
Jul 29, 2014, 9:34 PM EDT
CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman heard from a Rays-connected source Tuesday that the Rays are “talking and willing” to trade ace left-hander David Price and the Cardinals and Dodgers are known to have interest.
Jul 29, 2014, 8:41 PM EDT
The Cubs made the curious decision to option reliever Neil Ramirez to Triple-A Iowa on Saturday despite his 0.96 ERA in 28 innings, but that option has now been voided and Ramirez has been transferred to the 15-day major league disabled list with a sore triceps.
Jul 29, 2014, 7:58 PM EDT
MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch reports that right-hander Michael Pineda threw a successful simulated game on Tuesday afternoon in front of manager Joe Girardi and has been cleared to begin a minor league rehab assignment later this week.
Jul 29, 2014, 7:03 PM EDT
FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi reported Monday that the Phillies have made ace left-hander Cole Hamels available ahead of Thursday’s July 31 trade deadline, but the asking price on him is apparently sky-high.
Jul 29, 2014, 6:20 PM EDT
Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera is back with the Padres for Tuesday’s series-opener against the Cardinals after missing nearly four weeks with a left hamstring strain.
Jul 29, 2014, 5:31 PM EDT
No ballplayer wants to fly to Birmingham, Alabama during the season for a very, very good reason.
Jul 29, 2014, 5:17 PM EDT
A strained neck put Justin Morneau’s comeback season on hold, but the Rockies have activated the first baseman from the disabled list for tonight’s game against the Cubs.
Jul 29, 2014, 4:58 PM EDT
And Bud Selig’s years-long effort to manage a quiet resolution of it is apparently a failure.
Jul 29, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT
Maybe this happens all the time and we just don’t hear about it, but Red Sox manager John Farrell admitted just now that the team has Brandon Workman lined up to start Wednesday’s game in case scheduled starter Jon Lester is traded before then.
Jul 29, 2014, 4:22 PM EDT
In what could throw a wrench into the Phillies’ plans to trade Marlon Byrd before Thursday’s deadline, the 36-year-old outfielder is out of tonight’s lineup after fouling a ball off his foot yesterday.
Jul 29, 2014, 3:54 PM EDT
A big named ace is likely to change uniforms this week.
Jul 29, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
But . . . I was told Wahoo outrage was nothing but liberal white guilt . . .
Jul 29, 2014, 2:19 PM EDT
Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez’s throwing issues have gotten so bad–including an MLB-leading 21 of his 23 errors on throws–that Jenn Menendez of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports the team is starting to look into “the mental component to find the root of the problem.”
Jul 29, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
The Sox are in last place and are going nowhere. Time to deal starters?
Jul 29, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
He’s a braver man than I am. By that I mean Kershaw for going on Kimmel’s show.
- And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights 12
- Dodgers announce Vin Scully will return for 2015 season 42
- Jon Lester scratched Wednesday amid trade speculation 29
- Rays are “talking and willing” to trade ace lefty David Price; Cardinals and Dodgers interested 34
- Phillies wanted Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, and Julio Urias from Dodgers for Cole Hamels 82
- Matt Cain is going to pay a visit to Dr. Andrews 7
- The Nationals and Orioles dispute over TV money is about to explode 87
- The Red Sox are expected to deal Jon Lester and the Pirates are a “dark horse” 36
- Expert’s Corner: How to troll fans of all 30 teams (201)
- “Caucasians” t-shirts are hot sellers on Canadian Indian reservations (190)
- Verducci: baseball should think about an “illegal defense” rule to combat shifts (165)
- Must-click link: sexual depravity — and possibly rape — in the minor leagues (101)
- Ray Rice is awful, but let’s not pretend baseball has a great record on domestic violence (91)