It’s a pretty terrible film and it’s astonishing to me that audiences made it such a hit in the U.S. It has no real insight and it plays like a television movie. This is a story that begs for a complex narrative instead of this simple, childish hagiography. Maybe it will play well to preteen school children, who know absolutely nothing about the man. But this forty-something writer needed a Jackie Robinson bio with a little bit of bite. This film is toothless. And it’s a crying shame, because the tale of Robinson’s life is deserving of so much more. This depiction is almost an insult to the man.
Most people of a certain age will know going in that Jackie Robinson(Chadwick Boseman, doing just fine with the material he’s been given)was the first African-American allowed to play in Major League baseball starting in the year 1947. They’ll also be aware that he suffered racism leading up to his debut and, at the very least, for a long time after he began. But he overcame it and became a legendary player, as well as an idol for millions. And that’s about all you’ll learn from the tepid “42”. Oh, and that Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher(again, a mostly overcoming the material, Christopher Meloni)liked to fool around with some pretty Hollywood actress . Also, Dodgers team executive Branch Rickey(an ancient-looking, almost completely unrecognizable, miles-from-Dr. Jones, Harrison Ford)was motivated by the almighty dollar in drafting Robinson(to bring more “colored” people to the games)—but that he still possesses a heart of gold. Jackie Robinson overcomes all the obstacles despite all the taunts and racial insults—but there’s never a moment that you won’t see coming from a baseball diamond away.
It’s not fair to blame the actors for this debacle—they all perform steadily and admirably. In fact, word has it that Mr. Boseman has already been tapped to play another African-American icon, in a film about the legendary James Brown. It’s probably fair to unload the majority of fault onto the shoulders of writer/director, Brian Helgeland(although it’s not tough to imagine the money men behind the scenes pushing for this sort of generic, inoffensive soap opera). But Helgeland’s resume forecast that he could have given us so much more. 1997’s “L. A. Confidential”(an Adapted Screenplay Oscar shared with director Curtis Hanson), 1999’s gritty underrated “Payback”(as both writer and director)and 2003’s “Mystic River”(an Adapted Screenplay nomination)—to this? What the hell happened to Helgeland’s balls? Just about everything has been neutered in the tedious, simplistic “42”. You’d be better off reading a book about the baseball giant, because this film offers a pittance of riches to Robinson lovers and film fans alike. Grade: C