22 April, 2013

Review: "42" (***½)

Harrison Ford and Nicole Beharie star in "42"

Sharing movie houses with expanding arthouse hits like "The Place Beyond the Pines," "Trance" and "To the Wonder," baseball biopic "42" might not be the most visually striking or thought-provoking film worthy of a Friday night at the cinema this month. The film is exactly what it aims to be, however—a crowd-pleaser with mass appeal. Writer-director Brian Helgeland has a successful past as a screenwriter, winning an Oscar for "L.A. Confidential" and earning a second nomination for "Mystic River." As a director, his most successful film to date is "A Knight's Tale," a lightweight but stylish starring vehicle for the late Heath Ledger. "42" is a handsome film that, while failing to reinvent the inspirational sports film genre, makes for a well spent two hours looking at one of baseball's most important historical figures.

Set in the late 1940's during Jackie Robinson's quick and controversial ascent to the top of Major League Baseball, "42" is about as clean-cut as you can get. The movie enjoys a fairly docile existence; its emotional impact failing to modulate in any extreme motion. Only a few moments of high drama occur, almost always involving racial slurs. Though not exploitative, the only reactionary moments in the film are completely in response to the use of the N-word. Manipulating the emotions of the audience is the calling card of these history-infused sports films, so nothing is out of place.

"42" fits comfortably under the same umbrella as fellow feel-good sports hit "Remember the Titans," a film whose reputation as a high-school favorite and eventual star generator (Ryan Gosling, Hayden Panettiere, Kate Bosworth) precedes it as anything more than a decent film. I couldn't help but want a montage set to "Brooklyn We Go Hard" to begin at any moment during "42," but this film is more Walt Disney than it is Jay-Z. The Jay-Z song is the edgiest that the film gets—and its only featured use is in the trailer and the ubiquitous television ads. It's not exactly false advertising, but the film's squeaky clean visage does nurture thoughts of the grit that could have been.

Chadwick Boseman plays Jackie Robinson in "42"
Chadwick Boseman is a good find as Robinson, playing it appropriately close to the vest. It's fun to watch TV vets like Christopher Meloni, Alan Tudyk, T.R. Knight and John C. McGinley chew some scenery, but Harrison Ford and Nicole Beharie steal the spotlight every chance they get. Ford, a movie star for four decades now, gives us one of his most loaded turns ever. Despite most of his time spent in a role more suited for a cartoon character, several moments of sincere passion put more light in his eyes than we are used to seeing. In her first major commercial role, Beharie casts a spell with her ever-searching eyes. Her presence in the grandstands feels as much a comfort to the audience as it was to her husband on the field.

"42" possesses the visual charm of a dusty, faded uniform, despite Hollywood filmmakers remaining convinced that a sepia tint is necessary for any film set in a previous era. Though the dulled tones aren't off-putting, they aren't completely consistent either—though, the Dodger blue does pop a bit more in contrast. I suspect that, by year's end, I'll still recall the exuberance of the horn-heavy score by Mark Isham. Though it might have been deemed typical years ago, it bucks the current trends that have moved closer to moody synthesizers and weepy strings.

"42" already holds the record for the biggest box office opening for a baseball movie. Good word of mouth and an important historical context right as baseball season gets into full swing should keep the cash flowing in all spring. Filmed in Macon and at Atlanta Film Studios Paulding County (AFSPC) in Hiram (as well as in Birmingham, Alabama and Chattanooga, Tennessee), this marks the second box office hit of the year for Georgia, after "Identity Thief."

3.5 out of 5 stars.


  1. Good review Cameron. Can’t say I loved it, but definitely liked mostly what I saw, especially from the story-telling department as it all went the way it happened in real life, no frills.

  2. So cool to see Georgia with such a developing film industry! Keep up the reviews, Cameron.