Monday, 9 September 2013

Film Review: 42 (2013)

Director: Brian Helgeland
Writer: Brian Helgeland
Stars: Chadwick Boseman, T.R. Knight and Harrison Ford

The greatest testament to 42 is that it strikes home as an emotionally impactful drama regardless of your knowledge of baseball or the legacy of Jackie Robinson. I knew nothing of either before seeing the film, but I can certainly recommend it for anyone looking for an uplifting film experience.

Writer and director Brian Helgeland is a major player as a screenwriter in Hollywood, having written successful scripts such as LA Confidential, Payback, Mystic River, and Man On Fire but 42 is certainly his most earnest and heartfelt. Based on the true story of Branch Rickey’s signing of Jackie Robinson for the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team in 1946 in a bid to start racial equality within the sport; the film’s opening narration informs us that before this season there was not one black player in the league but things were about to change.

Racism, however, was not only present in the game but also rife across America at this time, and the film is more about what Robinson stood for for humanity, not just baseball in general. Robinson and Ricky know they will be hated and abused from the fans and fellow players, but the weight of what Robinson must have had on his shoulders must have been incredible, especially as he knows one wrong word or if he shows a fight against his repressors, he will not only lose his personal battle, but also damage the possibilities for other black players to follow in his footsteps. The film shows Robinson, even to those who may have known nothing about him, as a real hero and a man of true courage and determination.

The racism in the film lends to create some genuinely uncomfortable scenes and we simply cannot help but feel sympathy for Robinson, and why should we not? Yes, the film tugs at out emotional core, but it deserves and earns every tear you may shed, especially when we see a rival team’s manager screaming abuse at Robinson, and the superb scene which follows where Robinson breaks down out of sight from the media’s eyes. This scene in particular is very well acted by Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and Harrison Ford as Rickey, giving one of his best performances here of his career.

Stop thinking for yourself verdict: By the film’s end, which could be seen by some as overly sentimental, Helgeland has his audience just where he wants them; we are fully behind Robinson from the very start but in the final game he is a hero to us, regardless if we are a baseball fan. The film has its issues with opening and closing narration, but to criticise 42 for not being perfect is to overlook what it sets out to achieve; sometime a film’s goal is to uplift us and show us what good people can do, and in doing so makes 42 one of the year’s most satisfying films.

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