Movie Review: 42 offers good intentions
Director: Brian Helgeland
Writers: Brian Helgeland
Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie
Synopsis: The life story of Jackie Robinson and his history-making signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers under the guidance of team executive Branch Rickey.
I feel like with Brian Helgeland you never know what you’re going to get. He can be a great writer and director and sometimes he’s mediocre at best. With 42, we don’t get his best work, but he has his moments. Doing a bio-pic is a tough project because you have to be able to focus on someones life while telling the story well and many bio-pic’s struggle with that. Helgeland’s direction is all over the place with this film. Some parts are serious drama, other parts are all comedy, and at times Jackie Robinson isn’t even the main character. Helgeland lets Harrison Ford’s character, Branch Rickey, take over the show in some scenes. It feels like Helgeland struggled with knowing which parts of Robinson’s story to tell and how to go about it. I also feel like he failed with addressing what make Robinson so amazing and that was how he overcame the racism he experienced. Most of the racism is soft and unrealistic. It felt like Helgeland tried to sugarcoat it or dance around the topic while addressing it a little bit. The racism Robinson experienced in real-life was harsh and isn’t portrayed well in this movie at all. There are some scenes Helgeland nailed though which I enjoyed quite a bit and there was a great tracking shot of Robinson as he comes out of the Dodgers tunnel for the first time. Overall though it’s a disappointing performance, which is sad because I love the story of Jackie Robinson. Outside of the movie experience, the story of Robinson is great and worth getting to know.
The script was also written by Helgeland. Normally, I love it when a movie is written and directed by the same guy. He has the same vision on paper as he will in his mind to bring it to life visually. Again, Helgeland struggles with how to tell this story. He starts out with Robinson in the negro leagues and how he’s contacted by the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson starts out in the minor leagues with Montreal and eventually becomes a Dodger a year after that. But the script moves so fast that you miss all that if you’re not paying attention. There are so many elements between Robinson and his wife, his teammates, and fans that are not explored well and many details fall from the waste side. The only relationship that works well is between Robinson and Rickey. If Helgeland would of stuck to just that, this movie would of worked much, much better. There are some elements though that are hysterical and there are so many great one-liners that I really enjoyed a lot. So while, the acting isn’t all that great overall and the direction of the story could of been better, I like the script for the most part. The dialogue is great in some places and as I just mentioned has some awesome one-liners. The biggest knock on the script is the lack of realism in the racism dialogue. I understand that Helgeland doesn’t want to offend anyone, but the racist dialogue is what Robinson really experienced and what makes his story so great. He overcame all of that and became a great baseball legend. Outside of Alan Tudyk’s character, the dialogue is unrealistic and is extremely cheesy. It also doesn’t help that the cheesy dialogue wasn’t delivered well, which while isn’t his fault as the screenwriter, it is his fault as the director. Overall though, the story between Robinson and Rickey is written surprisingly well and the one-liners won me over for the most part.
Harrison Ford is amazing in this film and he even steals the spotlight at times. His one-liners are amazing and I love how bold he is with it. He has a great performance that I think helps Chadwick Boseman who plays Robinson. Boseman and Ford had a pretty good chemistry that I liked a lot. Boseman I thought did a descent job as Robinson. There are some moments and parts that I thought were a little dull and uninspired but I believe he was directed that way. The biggest problem I had with Boseman is that he seemed a little awkward athletically at times. When he was on base, his athletic mannerisms seemed very fake like he had never played the game before or sports in general. I’m not sure if that’s how sports was in the 1940’s or if it was a bad performance. Either way, it seemed very awkward. Outside of that Boseman does a fine job though. In the very few scenes that he’s in, Alan Tudyk is amazing as well. He’s one of the best character actors you’ll see and he steals the show when he is taunting Robinson. He’s the only character who’s racism is believable. Sadly, that means it’s easily the best part (maybe only part?) that makes you feel inspired when you see Robinson overcome it. Christopher Meloni is also pretty good when he’s on screen. He’s not in the film a ton either, but as the Dodgers manager he’s great. I also enjoyed Lucas Black and John C. Mcginley as well. But again, not a lot of screentime for either of them. The rest of the supporting cast, including Nicole Beharie who plays Mrs. Robinson, is pretty bad and struggle to deliver quality lines. Sadly that includes most of the white baseball players and teammates, people in the crowd, and other supporting roles that don’t mean anything to the movie.
The score was done by one of my favorite composers, Mark Isham. Isham does a great job of adding appropriate music to what is going on in the film. The fact that the movie isn’t all the inspiring because of the direction, it feels appropriate to have a score that’s not all gung-ho. That being said I did like the strings that was accompanied by a great horn section. He also did a great job of bring the 1940’s into the score and soundtrack which I thought was a great personal touch. It’s not my favorite work by Isham, but it definitely fits the bill here.
Overall Grade: C+