There are have been many individuals who have changed our nation, and Jackie Robinson is among them. He definitely deserves his own movie, as did the T.C. Williams Titans, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali, the 1966 Texas Western basketball team and a vast list of other inspirational African-Americans who didn't let disenfranchisement and prejudice stop them from living their dreams. One thing I will never understand about Hollywood is why they want to turn out carbon copies of the same movie when it comes to inspirational African-Americans.
"42" shakes out pretty much how one would expect. Sadly, that's also the problem with the film, it doesn't want to stand on its own terms. It wants to be like every other film about an inspirational figure who had to beat tough odds to accomplish something. This type of movie doesn't just limit itself to African-Americans, but women, homosexuals, other races, other creeds and the like. There is nothing original about "42," nothing that sticks. There is nothing here that I haven't seen before, nothing that is going to inspire me to watch this ever again. Too bad, because Jackie Robinson's story is a good one.
The film starts with the sympathetic white guy (Branch Rickey played by Harrison Ford) who gets Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) to sign with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The first day of practice, Robinson is underestimated until he proves himself. Robinson makes the team, and everywhere the team goes, they are met with racial strife, until Robinson proves himself. There is the racist player on the Dodgers who has a quick change of heart in the middle of the movie, there are the death threats, there's inspirational monologues by non-racist white characters and there is the one racist character that goes out of their way to be racist, all leading up to the film's big finish.
Sound familiar? It should, since every sports movie involving African-Americans is made just like this one. "42" seems compelled to comply to the old sports movie and African-American movie cliches, instead of trying to be something of its own. The film works like a check list through every cliche the genres have ever had, would be so hard to be something more? Would have been too hard to explore Jackie Robinson as a person? Would have been so hard to see the internal struggle of the racist white characters and what motivated them to change and support Robinson? Would it have been so hard to explore how he changed the sport forever? Apparently the answer is yes, we learn nothing about Robinson, characters change for plot convenience at the drop of a dime and the impact of Jackie Robinson is explained in a few title cards before the credits roll. What a familiar and cheap way to handle such a mesmerizing story.
Harrison Ford and Chadwick Boseman do what they can, but the material limits their abilities, since they are only playing up to cliches and not playing real characters. Its handled well its just painted so similar that I find it hard to buy into it completely. The always great Alan Tudyk plays the Philadelphia team's manager who is the guy who taunts Robinson, trying to get him to crack. Tudyk does well, but his character is written with such broad strokes that he comes off like a cartoon. I was also deeply puzzled by Nicole Beharie as Robinson's wife. We learn so little about their dynamics of their relationship, their love for one another and their willpower as a couple that I wondered why her character was included at all. Was Robinson's wife crucial to his success? The movie certainly doesn't show it if she was.
I can tell you that the costumes are great, the look and feel of the 1940's is spot-on and that the inspirational music is inspirational enough. But by now, that comes with the territory, there isn't much effort toward getting the audience to buy into the story. This is just another cliche checklist. Its too bad since Jackie Robinson deserves a better movie, one that respects him as a person as well as his accomplishments. I feel "42" doesn't do that. What made films like "Malcolm X" and "Milk" so good was that they didn't follow typical Hollywood cliches, they broke them and started from scratch. I hoped "42" would have done that, no such luck though.
FINAL GRADE: C