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.
Sep 1, 2014, 8:45 AM EDT
Well, it’s not his (or his estate’s) house anymore. Likely wasn’t for decades. But if someone wants Jon Voight’s LeBaron, someone will probably buy this, right?
Sep 1, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
And part of the reason for this reminder is that, while Major League Baseball sees fit to commemorate most other holidays that occur during the baseball season, it has always given Labor Day short shrift.
Aug 31, 2014, 11:35 PM EDT
The Blue Jays added an outfield bench bat, picking up John Mayberry, Jr. from the Phillies on Sunday.
Aug 31, 2014, 11:05 PM EDT
The Brewers tried but ultimately failed to acquire David Price from the Rays in July because they refused to part with pitcher Jimmy Nelson.
Aug 31, 2014, 10:30 PM EDT
Bryce Harper entered August with numbers far below expectations. He’ll enter September with much better-looking stats thanks to a decent showing in August, including a spectacular finish on Sunday.
Aug 31, 2014, 9:35 PM EDT
Aroldis Chapman has had a great season, as usual, but he could do something no pitcher has done since the implementation of pitch-tracking technology in 2006.
Aug 31, 2014, 8:40 PM EDT
Is it really a good thing if one’s team is one of only two teams in the last 113 years to have four relatively old players accrue a significant amount of playing time?
Aug 31, 2014, 7:45 PM EDT
The Yankees picked up Chaz Roe on the cheap from the Marlins on Sunday, just ahead of the waiver deadline.
Aug 31, 2014, 6:55 PM EDT
Adam Dunn is ready to call it a career, he told the media on Sunday after he was traded from the White Sox to the Athletics.
Aug 31, 2014, 6:05 PM EDT
Kolten Wong hit his head on the ground pursuing a ball hit by Chris Valaika in the eighth inning of Sunday’s game against the Cubs. He was helped off the field, and he’ll undergo testing after the game.
Aug 31, 2014, 5:11 PM EDT
Rusney Castillo made his debut in MLB-affiliated ball on Sunday afternoon with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox, singling through the left side of the infield in his first of two plate appearances and striking out looking in his second.
Aug 31, 2014, 4:17 PM EDT
Watch as Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista leaves the yard for the fifth time in five games Sunday afternoon against the Yankees …
Aug 31, 2014, 3:25 PM EDT
Derek Jeter’s retirement tour continued Sunday afternoon at Rogers Centre in Toronto, where the Blue Jays presented him a $10,000 check for his Turn 2 Foundation and this really cool trip …
Aug 31, 2014, 2:33 PM EDT
Hyun-Jin Ryu is back in the Dodgers’ starting rotation after missing a little over two weeks with a strained glute and Juan Uribe is back at third base after sitting out 15 days with a strained hamstring.
Aug 31, 2014, 1:48 PM EDT
The National League Central-leading Brewers just made a pretty significant upgrade to their bullpen. From Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com comes word that Milwaukee has acquired right-handed reliever Jonathan Broxton in a waiver trade with the Reds.
Aug 31, 2014, 12:55 PM EDT
Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera had to leave the second half of Saturday’s doubleheader against the White Sox after struggling to make it down the first base line on a fourth-inning groundout. He’s been battling a right ankle injury for several weeks, and it seems only to be getting worse.
Aug 31, 2014, 11:49 AM EDT
The A’s announced Sunday morning that they have acquired veteran designated hitter Adam Dunn from the White Sox for minor league reliever Nolan Sanburn.
Aug 31, 2014, 11:37 AM EDT
Yankees center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is sitting out a second consecutive game after injuring his left ankle on a slide into home plate Friday night …
Aug 31, 2014, 10:53 AM EDT
Jay Bruce finished 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in Saturday’s loss to the Pirates and is now batting .217/.292/.369 with 130 strikeouts in 114 total games this season. He’s sporting a career-worst .661 OPS and it looks like he’ll finish with fewer than 20 home runs for the first time since breaking into the major leagues in 2008.
Aug 31, 2014, 10:01 AM EDT
White Sox veteran slugger Adam Dunn appears willing to waive his no-trade clause and join a contending team for his first taste of postseason baseball …
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- Reds trade setup man Jonathan Broxton to the Brewers 15
- Miguel Cabrera sits Sunday with nagging ankle injury 12
- A’s acquire veteran slugger Adam Dunn from the White Sox 54
- Settling the Score: Saturday’s results 18
- Orioles acquire Kelly Johnson from the Red Sox 15
- Orioles acquire Alejandro De Aza from the White Sox 6
- Bryce Harper is 15th player in MLB history to reach 50 career homers before age-22 season 31
- Could women play major league baseball? Sure. Right now, though, the deck is stacked against them. (220)
- Forgiveness for Pete Rose? Not in this lifetime (146)
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- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights (75)