Judge David Johnson's number 1,234 was retired.
In a game divided by color, he made us see greatness.
"I'm not goin' anywhere! I'm right here!"
Facts of the Case
Jackie Robinson. The guy's kind of a big deal. 42 details the legend's rise through the majors and the circumstances surrounding his smashing of the baseball color barrier. With Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and Harrison Ford (Raiders of the Lost Ark) as Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey anchoring the proceedings, writer/director Brian Helgeland's biopic delivers the ups and downs of one of the most turbulent, history-making events in the American experience.
I enjoyed this film. However, if you were to tell me you couldn't quite connect with 42 because of its sporadically overwrought sentimentality, Mark Isham's syrupy generic score, Helgeland's sometimes flat writing, or the film's girth-filled runtime, I couldn't disagree. There's truth to each of those observations. But, goodness sakes, was I wooed by the earnestness of it all. This is a film that lays it on thick, but everyone involved seems to have been psyched about the material.
And why shouldn't they? It's a dynamite story. As a flashpoint of American culture, 42 is worth anyone's time. Which is ironic, seeing that it's a biopic of Jackie Robinson, and the most interesting thing here isn't Robinson. It's the circumstances of what was transpiring around him.
That's not to say Robinson wasn't an amazing guy. The man is a legit icon, a gentleman of outstanding character who withstood unimaginable pressure and not only made it to the big leagues but excelled. It's the very fact he was such an awesome dude, that his life doesn't carry with it the ups and downs we find in most cinematic biographies.
No matter. Robinson's fortitude and integrity should be lauded, as it's those qualities which make 42 compelling. He was the right man at the right time, a theme reverberating throughout Helgeland's production. Because of who Robinson was, what he meant was even bigger.
What I found the most interesting was how the characters on the periphery reacted to Robinson's arrival. The rips in the fabric of accepted societal norms were laid bare, made especially visible by our national pastime. From racist managers and chirping fans, to skeptical teammates and the people who were in his corner, Robinson exposed raw nerves and true natures.
At the center of this firestorm is Branch Rickey, played well by Harrison Ford who does his best to vanish into the role. He's driving this thing from the get-go and through various clumps of exposition he reveals his purpose for taking such a risk, though I agree with those who lament the drastic toning down of the role Christian faith played in both Rickey's and Robinson's lives. His teammates undergo transformations, but all save for Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black, American Gothic) get short-changed, despite a hefty runtime. At the bottom tier of the picture are the great unwashed masses, and kudos to Helgeland for resisting the urge to make them all faceless racist cardboard cutouts. There's nuance here. Not everyone's a monster.
Warner Bros' 2.40:1/1080p HD transfer is gorgeous, sporting immaculate detail and pristine resolution. And thanks to all that baseball, we get plenty of action in the broad daylight, with visuals that are glorious, bathed in sunshine and dirt. A clean DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks works it, but forced to cough up Isham's lame underscore.
Bonus features include three behind-the-scenes featurettes—"Stepping into History" (the characters), "Full-Contact Baseball" (setting the baseball stage), and "The Legacy of the Number 42" (interview-filled retrospective)—plus the obligatory DVD, digital, and UltraViolet copies of the film.
42 (Blu-ray) accomplishes what it sets out to do, giving Jackie Robinson the spotlight he deserves. This thorny moment in our history is handled deftly, and there are more than a couple moments that will make adult men cry. Mission accomplished!
For this level of feel-goodery, I will gladly take the schmaltz.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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