This review is being submitted by guest conversantlife contributor and known Los Angeles Dodgers guru Matthew Faris. Matthew is a life long Dodgers fan and dare I even say it - baseball scholar. He is perhaps most qualified to review the merits of the film. Enjoy!
Let's just start with the obvious: "42" is an absolutely fantastic movie. Any movie about Baseball is usually enough to entertain me, but "42" is about so much more than Baseball. It’s about race, segregation, and doing the right thing, even when it’s the most difficult thing in the world.
"42" starts by recreating the 1940's and what the social environment was like at the time. In the year 1947, Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers decides that it’s time to bring in a baseball player who isn’t white. Rickey sees it as a dual positive: Not only is it the right thing to do (rather than forcing the black population to play in the Negro Leagues), but Rickey also assumes that a black baseball player will bring in money from the black residents of Brooklyn. Enter Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), an incredibly athletic and equally thick-skinned shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs (a negro league team), who Rickey decides has the right mental makeup not only to play in the intense pressure that is Major League Baseball, but to add the incredible weight that would be breaking the color barrier. In a signature moment for the film, Rickey tells Robinson that he doesn’t want someone who doesn’t have the guts to fight back, but rather has the guts to not fight back.
As Robinson endures increasing verbal abuse and oppression, I found myself pulling for him more and more. In one scene, Robinson’s character is struck in the head by the opposing pitcher, and the benches empty. I found myself gritting my teeth, wanting for that pitcher to have the snot beaten out of him. But Robinson's response is different. Moments like this are sprinkled throughout the film.
There are so many striking little details put in as well, especially with Red Barber (John C. McGinley), the announcer for the Dodgers whose string of metaphors had me cracking up every time he was on screen. But it was when I saw Ebbets Field (where the Brooklyn Dodgers played) for the first time that my jaw dropped in awe. As a long time Dodgers fan, it looked exactly like it did in all the old photographs and I could imagine myself really being there.
Acting wise, Harrison Ford and Chadwick Boseman really carry "42". Ford often speaks slowly, but he uses a very deep, coherent voice that carries a lot of weight with each word said. Boseman, by contrast, plays a very loose but serious character very well. He’s absolute dynamite when he’s on the Baseball field too, stealing bases and worming his way so well into the opposing pitchers heads. Nicole Beharie, who plays Jackie’s wife Rachel, is fantastic and convincing as she genuinely shows concern for Jackie, while understanding the unique position he’s in and letting him do what he needs to do.
While this film does a very good job of exploring all the different relationships between Rickey, Robinson, and the other Brooklyn players, I wish they’d have explored these relationships in more detail. We know that the white crowds (for the most part) hated Jackie, and we know that the black crowds loved him. But the film gives you a lot of players who were well known in their day, but are hard to distinguish from one another. The only exception to this was Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black), who goes from quietly to very publically showing his support for Robinson. Unfortunately, he’s the only one whose character gets fleshed out at all. All of the other teammates just sort of blend together, and you can’t really tell them apart.
Ultimately this film shows a very powerful story of a man who confronted every obstacle put against him, ultimately to break the color barrier in baseball. Though Robinson’s high points gave me so much joy, it’s his low points that make him so compelling as a character. While films such as "Moneyball" (a film I loved) try to be stories about big concepts projected through baseball, they pale in comparison to the heavy emotions that "42" drew out of me. I highly recommend "42" for anyone interested not just in great movies about sports, but great movies in general.