"42" is less inspiring than bludgeoning, yet has inspiring moments. It is a fair depiction of racism in the mid-20th century, but the Jackie Robinson we see seems to be transported from the 21st century. The writing is good, but key scenes are wasted on drivel.
"42" gets off to a bad start with its "based on" disclaimer. Isn't the true story good enough? Apparently, it wasn't dramatic enough for writer-director Brian Helgeland. So he "improved" it.
You do not honor a man by dishonoring another. Fritz Ostermueller did not bean Jackie Robinson on the head; he hit him on the shoulder, and there's no record of him yelling racist insults while doing it. Yet Brian Helgeland portrays him as a sort of neo-Nazi. And he makes an umpire who made a bad call look like a monkey. These are childish, if not racist.
There are many scenes that don't ring true, undermining the movie's credibility.
The Monarchs' bus at the rural Southern gas station is utterly implausible. If you don't let me use the restroom, I won't buy the gas, says Robinson. He gets his gas, but the bus might get a visit from the sheriff or the KKK on a lonely stretch of highway. Plus the scout from the Dodgers shows up -- not at the next ball field, but at the gas station in the middle of nowhere! He offers Jackie a tryout, and he just says, OK, without the least astonishment. A key scene ruined.
Branch Rickey offers Robinson a job, and again he just says OK. In reality they spent three hours talking; in the movie the white guy spends four minutes informing the black guy there is racism(!) out there.
I saw "The Jackie Robinson Story" - 1950 - first, and in it, Rickey tells Robinson to call his mother long-distance before deciding, who tells him to talk with a minister, who tells Robinson that the hopes of black people will be with him on the ball field. It was very well done. In "42" the key scene of the movie was wasted.
Robinson signs and promptly gets married, even though he is in New York, and she is in California, and in reality it happened three months later. We then see interminable banter outside a door about how much they love each other. But we never find out anything about Rachel, that she is a nurse, how he met or courted her, how she feels about marrying a target of the KKK. (Flashback?)
Next, we see Rachel walk into a Whites only restroom. This is precisely what Rickey told them not to do. They get booted off the plane and the airline threatens to call the sheriff. This could have been the end of Robinson's baseball career and we never would have heard of him. It might reflect the time, but it lacks believability.
In Daytona they board with a local black politician, who is "in charge of the get out the black vote." In Florida (the state with the highest per capita rate of lynchings) you could get killed just for registering people to vote, as happened to Harry T. Moore in 1950.
In 42-1950 Jackie Robinson plays himself, has a higher voice, is soft spoken, polite and even meek. Would this have sold movie tickets in 2013? Doubtful, without great writing. Helgeland turns him into an emotional volcano who keeps from erupting only with superhuman strength. That is 42-2013. The truth is probably somewhere in between.
On the other hand, the scene with Pee Wee Reese was well done, especially the bit with the kid yelling and then feeling shame.
The Ben Chapman incident is the most powerful in the movie, unsurprisingly, given the stomach turning language. By then, the movie had lost credibility. Yet, astonishingly, it is pretty accurate, judging by Wikipedia and other sources. Chapman's defense is that "everyone" yells prejudiced epithets. Pro players had to learn to ignore them -- including Robinson. The difference is that Robinson couldn't fight back. But sports writers did it for him, turning on Chapman en masse. Chapman wasn't fired until mid-1948, for being a lousy manager.
One of the strengths of 42-2013 is the character development of the white players. This is about the transformation of white attitudes, which took some courage, as well as the enormous courage of Robinson. But I never felt I got to know who Robinson really was. 42-2013 desperately needed some background on Robinson's youth, as in 42- 1950, perhaps through flashbacks. Helgeland should have hired a writer to help him.
The real emotional climax of 42-2013 could have been what came next, particularly being named Rookie of the Year by the (all white) sportswriters, which could have been a beautiful scene with Rachel, yet was reduced to text on the screen. Another scene wasted.
Larry Doby became the second black MLB player 11 weeks after Robinson, which 42-2013 fails to mention, and others soon followed, listed as text on the screen. "The Jackie Robinson Story" was filmed three years later. Apparently America was less racist than depicted in 42-2013, given the speed of desegregation of baseball.
Robinson, while amazing, was not the best black baseball player. Yet he is depicted as "supernatural": a hybrid of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Roy Hobbs. Everything in 42-2013 is exaggerated, cranked up 110 percent, including the sepia-tinged over-saturated color and the overpowering, forgettable background music. The result is not an up-swelling of admiration as much as being manipulated by a exploitative, gimmicky film.
Compare "42" to "Seabiscuit," which provides biographical backgrounds of the main characters, plus mini-documentaries of the historical period. The story is engrossing, powerful, inspiring and fun. "42" is less a story than an assemblage of scenes, with little sense of historical depth.
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