42 sets itself up as a bio-pic, but it takes its cues more from World War II-era propaganda films.
The movie follows baseball icon Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) through his first year with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. The first black player in Major League Baseball, Robinson takes a lot of abuse throughout the year.
42 shoots its message at the audience with gaudy dialogue and lighting. Most of it is religious. Early in the film, manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) makes Robinson into a Jesus analogue, and he never stops talking about God from there. Halo lighting is used exorbitantly to make sure the audience knows how Godly and glorious everything is.
The racial aspect of the story is focused on tightly. To a degree this should be expected, but the fact that Robinson was actually very good at baseball is only vaguely referenced, and that’s kind of a problem.
The film is more about sassy commentary from Robinson, Rickey and Red Barber (John C. McGinley). It’s basic wish-fulfillment — it gives the audience the pleasure of having the actions to drown out the bad guys’ words. It lets us root for the team we know is going to win.
But I can’t figure out the point of this larger-than-life bio-pic when the facts of Robinson’s career are staggering. This sensationalized fiction doesn’t live up to the reality.
In real life, Robinson is one of the most dynamic offensive players in Major League history. In the 1947 season, he lead the league in both sacrifice bunts and, somewhat counter intuitively, in stolen bases. He had 175 hits and 12 home runs, helping lead the Dodgers to the pennant where they would lose to the Yankees.
This is important, because Robinson wasn’t just notable because he was black — he was notable because he was a damn fine baseball player. 42 doesn’t mention any of his on-field accomplishments other than playing while black, and in doing so reduces him to the color of his skin. It’s pretty racist, really.
Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and a staff writer for the NT Daily. He extends his deepest condolences to citizens of Boston and West, Texas . For questions, rebuttals and further guidance about cinema, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At this point, I’d like to remind you that you shouldn’t actually go to movies and form your own opinions. That’s what I’m here for. Be sure to come back next week for a review of Oblivion.