Chadwick Boseman stars as Jackie Robinson – a talented baseball player and member of the Kansas City Monarchs in an all African-American baseball league because only white players have been recruited and signed to play Major League Baseball. However, that’s about to change.
The President and General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), sees the opportunity to make his team better, attract an untapped fan base, and do the right thing by recruiting Robinson to play for the club, so he brings the player aboard.
Much like we are reminded in the movie, it was going to take a special man to face the barrage of ugliness aimed at the first African-American to play Major League Baseball. It was also going to take a special actor to play Jackie Robinson, and the producers found him in Boseman.
Writer/director Brian Helgeland (the dude who wrote L.A. Confidential!!!) a little too often lets 42 slip into old fashioned, melodramatic territory. He’s trying too hard to make the movie inspirational and meaningful, while doing everything possible to highlight Robinson’s heroic life. However, Helgeland is much more successful at all of that when he’s not trying so hard.
After a mushy beginning, Helgeland starts to let the story tell itself, which is all the material he needs for the audience to feel all of those emotions he tries so hard to elicit from us. You can say the same about Ford’s performance.
For the first third of 42, Ford’s performance is over affected to the point where you feel he is playing Rickey like a parody of a 1940’s movie. He might as well wear a sign that says, “I AM ACTING HERE!” However, maybe as he got more comfortable with the character (or the writing and tone got better), Ford brings out a softer side of Rickey as he slowly reveals why he felt it was so important to bring Jackie Robinson into Brooklyn.
Best of all, Boseman is consistently strong throughout 42. Boseman is such a charismatic actor. He brings an amazing ease to Robinson, but knows when to unleash the intensity. Even when 42 is at its most schlocky, Boseman rises above it to be the most likable person on the screen, even when going toe-to-toe with a legend like Ford.
42 is a reminder of what the world used to be, and a chance for your teen kids to learn a lesson or two.
42 is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including language