42 - Online Review

'There is, as Brad Pitt's Billy Beane points out in Moneyball, a romance about baseball that even non-devotees can see at times but, if any film could afford to lose that romance, then you feel 42 may well have been it'

It is difficult to point 42 at the route it should have taken when you consider its subject matter and the lofty esteem in which its protagonist is rightly held, yet, somewhere, you feel that Brian Helgeland's film may have benefited from being less restrained, less respectful; a bit more dangerous than the Sunday-sepia tones seem to hint Helgeland was aiming for, and subsequently achieved.

In that respect it is only fair to point out that, as far as the director's intentions are concerned, it is mission: accomplished. Like all of those interested in baseball, I am a Jackie Robinson fan; not just of his approach, his courage and his play but of his character and for what he stood for in the history of the game. Robinson, from what I have read and seen, shouldered his responsibility with a confident acceptance and an obscenely mature sense of who he was, what he could achieve and what it would mean for both society and, to a lesser extent, the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team (now in LA).

In depicting all of that, plus his electric on-field play, Helgeland is successful. 42 is a film which oozes respect towards its subject and spreads its wings further by taking account of what Robinson's move - from Baseball's Negro Leagues to the Majors - meant for a society still, at the point of the film's events, divided on grounds of skin colour. In fact, where some writers who focus on sport sometimes seem to forget Robinson's cultural, as well as baseball impact, Helgeland revels in it, drawing parallels wherever he can between the racist rules Robinson breaks and those he and society are forced to abide by, by a white ruling class.

There is, as Brad Pitt's Billy Beane points out in Moneyball, a romance about baseball that even non-devotees can see at times but, if any film could afford to lose that romance, then you feel 42 may well have been it. From the dressing rooms (surely grubbier than this) to every other fixture, 42 gleams with a shimmer and respect for the game that perhaps it could have dispensed with.

The sheen is typified by Harrison Ford's Branch Rickey, the Dodgers' General Manager. Though Helgeland makes it clear that Rickey is calling Robinson up in order to leverage the financial gain incumbent from having a black superstar, Ford is in place to play to our sympathies. Rickey may well be, and may well have been, someone who was willing to exploit Robinson, with the fact that he is helping him to rise above race divides very much a side effect, but in 42 he is given a pass by way of Ford's attractive trademark gruffness, itself reminiscent of the pleasant feelings toward the Sunday afternoon films this looks towards: flamboyant bow ties and respect for the middle class included. You want the on-screen Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) to have a chat with Rickey about his personal beliefs, to challenge him on why he is there. Helgeland denies us this, more of a crime when you consider that, for the first time in a while, Ford looks excited whenever he is opposite Boseman and their scenes together crackle as a result.

What he delivers instead is a perfectly functional and perfectly watchable biopic, with a good-to-great lead turn from Boseman and Harrison Ford at his gruff best. You just can't help thinking throughout that 42 covers a person so brave, so emblematic and boundary-pushing, that he might have deserved a film which thought similarly.




42 was playing on BlinkBox.


By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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