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.
Aug 1, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT
The Dodgers aren’t paying much of Bronson Arroyo’s tab at all.
Aug 1, 2015, 10:45 PM EDT
Struggling lefty reliever Eric O’Flaherty was designated for assignment by the Athletics on Saturday.
Aug 1, 2015, 10:05 PM EDT
Chad Billingsley will meet with a doctor in L.A. He’s dealing with more elbow problems.
Aug 1, 2015, 9:33 PM EDT
Lucas Duda doesn’t want to run the bases.
Aug 1, 2015, 9:02 PM EDT
Steven Souza, Jr. was hit by a pitch and suffered a broken hand, so he’ll hit the disabled list for a spell.
Aug 1, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
Rays lefty Matt Moore will try to fix himself in a low-pressure environment, as the Rays will demote him following Saturday’s poor start against the Red Sox.
Aug 1, 2015, 8:10 PM EDT
Kyle Schwarber is staying in the big leagues when Miguel Montero returns, which is bad news for opposing pitchers.
Aug 1, 2015, 7:19 PM EDT
There’s a shakeup in the Red Sox front office, as Larry Lucchino is stepping down from his role as president and CEO.
Clayton Kershaw blanks the Angels over eight innings, runs consecutive scoreless innings streak to 37
Aug 1, 2015, 6:56 PM EDT
Clayton Kershaw is good at baseball, the lefty confirmed on Saturday.
Aug 1, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT
Matt Harrison has been diagnosed with hypothyroidism. The diagnosis, he hopes, allows him to deal with his various issues, including his back problems.
Aug 1, 2015, 5:29 PM EDT
The second-place Mets have been without Wright since mid-April.
Aug 1, 2015, 4:27 PM EDT
Saturday’s game marks the first time in MLB history that two reigning MVPs have squared off against each other.
Aug 1, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT
Davis hadn’t allowed a home run since August 24, 2013.
Aug 1, 2015, 3:26 PM EDT
Rogers made 18 appearances with the Yankees earlier this season, but now he’s headed to the Korea Baseball Organization.
Aug 1, 2015, 2:41 PM EDT
The speedy outfielder has made a good first impression in his Blue Jays debut.
Aug 1, 2015, 2:25 PM EDT
Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper was ejected from Friday’s game against the Mets in the top of the 11th inning after arguing balls and strikes with home plate umpire Jerry Meals.
Aug 1, 2015, 1:42 PM EDT
Wilson has a 3.89 ERA and 110/46 K/BB ratio in 132 innings over 21 starts this season, but the Angels will likely have to make due without him the rest of the way.
Aug 1, 2015, 1:19 PM EDT
Wheeler, who was part of Wednesday’s failed Carlos Gomez deal, reached out to Mets GM Sandy Alderson to express his desire to stay with the team.
Aug 1, 2015, 12:35 PM EDT
Kennedy pitched seven innings against the Marlins after watching the birth of his daughter.
Aug 1, 2015, 10:41 AM EDT
Danny Valencia is batting .296/.331/.506 with seven home runs and 29 RBI over 58 games this season, but the Blue Jays cut him loose Saturday.
- Lucas Duda’s last eight hits have been home runs 7
- Report: Larry Lucchino stepping down as president and CEO of the Red Sox 22
- Clayton Kershaw blanks the Angels over eight innings, runs consecutive scoreless innings streak to 37 13
- Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout make MLB history in Saturday’s matchup 12
- Matt Williams on Bryce Harper’s ejection: “He needs to stay in the baseball game” 38
- UPDATE: C.J. Wilson needs elbow surgery and will likely miss the rest of the season 12
- Settling the Score: Friday’s results 43
- The benches cleared in Friday’s Giants-Rangers game 186
- The benches cleared in Friday’s Giants-Rangers game (187)
- Blue Jays acquire David Price from the Tigers (112)
- Rangers land ace left-hander Cole Hamels from Phillies (106)
- Royals make another big move, get Ben Zobrist from A’s (95)
- Report: Rockies trade Troy Tulowitzki to Blue Jays for Jose Reyes and prospects (92)