Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a die-hard fan of sports; granted, as a child I enjoyed them, over time I have lost interest due to the new sports culture. The new sports culture that I’m referring to involves the athletes that play these sports and how their sole motivating factor in doing their job is to be paid millions of dollars and receive millions more in endorsement deals. I feel that today’s athletes no longer play sports due to their love of the game or a desire to show the world and their peers how talented they are. In director Brian Helgeland’s film 42, he attempts to convey to the audience this long forgotten culture revolving around sports, in which athletes played the game for the love of it and in the case of the main character of the film, to also show the world that an African American man not only had the right to play in a white league but was just as good if not better than those playing in said league.
Helgeland’s film conveys the long-lost sports culture in a believable way with cinematography and performances by both well-known and unknown actors. Through the use of the talented cinematographer Don Burgess, whose work includes The Book of Eli, Castaway, and Source Code, we are transported into a film whose overall color palette sets a symbolic tone. Overall, the film contains subdued browns and yellows and contains bright rays of shining light in most scenes. The use of submissive tones gives the audience a feeling of being transported back in time to the 50’s and somewhat subdues the audiences’ sense of happiness – it symbolizes the true grit and lives of many people during that era. Following this up with the use of occasional bright rays of sun light in various shots symbolizes at a greater level, the fact that even in these dark times of not only baseball but our country, Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) was making a difference and occasionally making his life and the people who struggled like him more bearable and free. Lastly, the director’s use of unknown and known actors helps the audience to connect with the story of 42 through the performances of Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford. Boseman is an actor who has yet to star in anything major (this will be his first silver screen appearance). However, he is able to deliver a wonderful performance in which he shows us the growth of his character and in some ways symbolically shows us the growth of the civil rights movement. Boseman starts out the film as a restrained character and by the end of the film becomes a true powerhouse of ferociousness. Harrison Ford stars as Branch Rickey, who was the manager of the Dodgers and the man responsible for helping to integrate Jackie Robinson. Ford’s performance almost overshadows Boseman’s at times. His character is one of a man who notices that the times are a changing and insists on integrating baseball at any cost. Ford’s character is that of a man that wishes to help Robinson in any way that he can and attempts to motivate and persuade Robinson to not fight back against his bigoted critics.
Although the film does a great job of casting its two main characters, it falls short with its supporting cast at times and with the dialogue presented. Jackie Robinson’s wife, who is played by Nicole Beharie, phones in her performance and doesn’t really bring anything to the movie – she is instantly a forgettable character. Helgeland’s attempts to convey dialogue that was true to the time period can feel forced and reminiscent of other time period films. A scene in which a 10-year-old boy is told by his father to call Jackie a “nigger” feels forced and reminds me of the gut wrenching scene from Schindler’s List in which a small girl says to the Jews being loaded onto a train, “Goodbye Jews” in a very derogatory manner.
Overall, 42 is a good film that has its ups and downs but it is also a film that conveys an important message. It is the story of two men who refused to give up in the face of adversity due to not only their love of the game but their desire to show the world that they could and would seek racial change. The film shows us how far we as a society have come and how we have lost sight of the true meaning for the phrase “for the love of the game”. With that said, let’s wrap our arm around our fellow man just like Pee Wee Reese does to Jackie Robinson in the film, and play ball!
FINAL TAKE: 8/11
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Synopsis: The true story of Jackie Robinson – the first black man integrated into Major League Baseball, and Branch Rickey – the Dodger’s manager who stood behind Jackie as he fought to do so.
Director: Brian Helgeland
Actors: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Christopher Meloni, Alan Tudyk