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42 (director/writer: Brian Helgeland; cinematographer: Don Burgess; editors: Kevin Stitt/Peter McNulty; music: Mark Isham; cast: Chadwick Boseman (Jackie Robinson), Harrison Ford (Branch Rickey), Nicole Beharie (Rachel Robinson), Christopher Meloni (Leo Durocher), Ryan Merriman (Dixie Walker), Lucas Black (Pee Wee Reese), Andre Holland (Wendell Smith), Alan Tudyk (Ben Chapman), Hamish Linklater (Ralph Branca), T. R. Knight (Harold Parrott), John C. McGinley (Red Barber), Max Gail (Burt Shotton); Runtime: 128; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Thomas Tull; Warner Bros. Pictures; 2013)
“Competent but superficial historical tribute to baseball legend Jackie Robinson.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Brian Helgeland (“Payback”/”The Knight’s Tale”/”The Order”) is writer-director of this competent but superficial historical tribute to baseball legend Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), who faced severe prejudice in becoming the Major League’s first Negro player in 1947 and succeeded largely thanks to the helpful efforts of the devout Christian Brooklyn Dodgers’ general manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), who was always in his corner. Jackie now has his uniform number 42 permanently retired by all Major League teams and after retirement was elected to the Hall of Fame. The inspirational feel-good pic is a formulaic telling of how after the war a racist America grudgingly moved forward to integrate its national past-time. It depicts the rocky road the Negro 26-year-old four-star athlete UCLA grad had that first year dealing with racism from his own club, other teams, the press and from fans, even though he led the Dodgers to a National League pennant and won rookie of the year honors and did so while playing out of position as a first baseman. The pic should appeal to a mass audience who like simplistic stories about genuine American heroes, who overcome obstacles to succeed.

No performance sticks out, since all the characters were portrayed in the same depth you find on a baseball trading-card. Jackie’s sweet wife Rachel (Nicole Beharie) is his main cheerleader; followed by a black sports reporter from Pittsburgh, Wendell Smith (Andre Holland), not allowed because of his race to stay in the writer’s press-box, who is hired by Rickey to be Jackie’s chaperon confident and to constantly remind Jackie of his promise to Mr. Rickey not to fight back no matter how much he’s racially taunted. Rickey bought the contract of Jackie from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro leagues, where he was their star shortstop. Jackie played for the Dodger organization in 1945 as the second baseman for the Montreal Royals of the International League before brought up ’47 to the ‘bigs.’

The conventional baseball pic pulls on the viewer’s heart strings for sympathy, has the characters pose in a none too subtle way their attitude of playing with a Negro, applauds baseball for at last coming to its senses and breaking down the shameful color barrier and does its best work showing how courageous and dignified Jackie was during this exciting but difficult time in American history. There’s no question that the pic is as emotionally moving as a stirring church sermon against racism, but its limited story doesn’t ask any daring questions of Jackie, Rickey, the baseball world or the America of the 1940s that tells us anything more about that period than what is obvious. It plays out as a pleasing civic lesson, a popular but limited film that could be a companion piece in its racial treatment of blacks to the recent The Blind Side.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”