Friday, April 12, 2013

Dallas IFF Review 2013: 42- Jonesy's Take

Directed by Brian Helgeland
Written by Brian Helgeland
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Alan Tudyk, Lucas Black, and Nicole Beharie.
Synopsis: A look at Jackie Robinson, the first African-American baseball player to play in the major league.

Unless you live under a rock (or don't give a hoot about sportsball like Javi), you know who Jackie Robinson was and his mark on the civil rights movement. He broke the color barrier for baseball when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15th, 1947. The film 42 takes a look at his career from his stint in the minor leagues and his first year with the Dodgers. His journey was anything less than pretty and quite tumultuous. And even though the film has moments of brilliance, the overall impact was very mediocre.

The film doesn't depict Robinson's whole life. Instead we pick up in 1945 where he's one of the best players in the Negro leagues. Branch Rickey (played by a gruff Harrison Ford) wants to introduce the first negro player into the white baseball league breaking, what many thought of as, an "unwritten rule" of segregation in sports. Rickey is impressed with Robinson's stats and quickly signs him to the Dodgers' minor league team, Montreal Royals. Throughout Robinson's quest to the majors, he faces multiple confrontations with everyone from local towns people kicking him off the baseball field to his teammates not wanting to play with him. Chadwick Boseman portrays Robinson as strong and powerful yet somewhat temperamental. Robinson was known to have a temper and wasn't afraid to stand up against opposition whether it be on or off the field. Rickey saw those qualities in him, and thus, he knew Robinson would have the "guts not to fight back" when things started to get rough.

This film should have given me goosebumps, but it ended up being just very average. Robinson's story is the quintessential tale of bravery and perseverance that many of us only dream of having. However, the story doesn't quite capture that as well as it could have. The story is bogged down by horribly, cheesy dialogue and a painfully, smultzy score. The music swells at all the right moments to the point of becoming a distraction. Boseman did the best with what he was given by taking the small moments without dialogue to show the internal struggle that Robinson faced.

One sequence stands out from the rest was between Robinson and the extremely racist Phillies manager, Ben Chapman (played brilliantly by Alan Tudyk). The depiction of the heckling and horrendous taunting Chapman yelled at Robinson kept building and building up the tension until the whole audience was ready to jump into the film and punch Chapman in the face. It's the one sequence in the film where the anguish is captured perfectly and when Robinson is able to release his aggression, the film thankfully takes out the music and let the emotion shine through.

42 hits all the right emotional beats at the right time to the point where the film is too formulaic. Even though it's history so we know how the story ends, that doesn't excuse the film for having next to no tension in the story. It's a decent enough film for the family with older children, as long as you don't mind the use of the n-word occasionally. The use is not excessive and relevant to the times depicted. But this does not live up to the exciting sports films, like MIRACLE, REMEMBER THE TITANS, or any of the 30 FOR 30 docs, that we're use to nowadays

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