Brian Helgeland’s “42” is a biopic about Jackie Robinson, the African American athlete who broke down baseball’s color barrier. The film chronicles his difficult road to the majors and the results of his challenging rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers. What’s funny about the movie is that even though it’s a Jackie Robinson biopic, he doesn’t feel like the main character.
There’s more emphasis on Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, played by Harrison Ford. Rickey decides in the beginning that he wants a black player on his squad to attract African American fans. As Rickey says, “Their dollars aren’t black and white. They’re green.”
So Rickey sets out to find his recruit and eventually settles on Robinson for his spirit, his educated background, and hilariously his religious orientation. “He’s a Methodist. I’m a Methodist. God’s a Methodist.” From there Rickey takes on a fatherly role, doing everything in his power to help Jackie join this squad and to succeed.
Not only does Ford break away from his crotchety old man stereotype that he’s been playing lately, but he also commits one hundred percent to the role. Ford totally disappears into the part, surprising you with laugh-out-loud sarcasm, fierce determination, and genuine compassion.
This concentration on Rickey definitely doesn’t appear to be malicious or misplaced. Writer and director Brian Helgeland seems like he’s trying to show that Robinson’s struggle is greater than just one man’s perspective. As the sports reporter played by Andre Holland in the film says, “You’re not the only one with something at stake here Jackie Robinson.”
Chadwick Boseman gives a fantastic performance as Robinson, displaying a man who’s forced to shoulder an immense burden for the greater good. Boseman’s Robinson handles these challenges with tremendous poise and courage, while still revealing raw emotions too. He’s magnetic in a lightning-charged scene where Robinson breaks down in the dugout.
The film is loaded with tremendous supporting efforts from Nicole Beharie, Christopher Meloni, Lucas Black, Hamish Linklater, Alan Tudyk, and John C. McGinley (Dr. Cox from “Scrubs”). Tudyk and McGinley are especially entertaining. Tudyk plays the brutally racist manager of the Phillies and McGinley is sports commentator Red Barber. The former Dr. Cox gets humorous lines such as “tight like a new pair of shoes in the rain.”
Helgeland steps outside his normal action and suspense wheelhouse to direct this drama, but he manages to keep the sports scenes exciting. Just like he did with “LA Confidential,” Helgeland effectively recreates the post-World War II era. If there are anachronistic elements they aren't too noticable.
At times, the dialogue in “42” is overly sappy and the music is heavy-handed. The volume seems to increase in moments when you’re supposed to feel inspired. This movie is one of those sports stories that just make you feel good though, and gets you appreciate the sacrifices Robinson and his colleagues made to blaze a trail in baseball.