42 Apr 13, 2013 22:43:12 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Apr 13, 2013 22:43:12 GMT -5
Chadwick Boseman is Jackie Robinson in 42.
42 is roughly the third baseball movie in the last three years that smartly focuses its storyline on the more interesting element at hand here, and leaves the game of baseball as a backdrop. That element is, of course, the human aspect of the story rather than the game, which I've seen enough of in films to publish an amateur baseball novel. With films like Moneyball and Trouble With the Curve furthering story and characters, the baseball genre in cinema has greatly expanded its horizons from forgettable affairs like The Babe and The Sandlot.
This is the much-needed biopic of Jackie Robinson, the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers baseman who became recognized as the first black man to play in what was known as "white man's baseball" in the mid-1940's. Robinson, a controlled and intelligent soul, is played by Chadwick Boseman, a name I bet many would still question even with the films release. Boseman brings the kind of energy and spirit the role of Robinson needs. His character inhabits the mindset of complete subtleness, not overplaying or undermining the charisma and personality Robinson was known to convey. The film follows his humble beginnings in third-rate "black leagues," his marriage to Rachel, his stint with the Dodgers' minor league affiliate the Montreal Royals, and finally, his career with the Dodgers that sparked nationwide controversy and uproar from the public and the opposing team members as well. There's something tragically disheartening and frustrating to see half the stadium cheer and celebrate Robinson's victories, while the other half is condemning him for nothing more than his skin color.
Yet such ignorance and hatred was prominent in America at the time, and director Brian Helgeland doesn't shy away from the ugliness. A scene later in the film shows a father and son discussing the game of baseball in a calm manner until Robinson takes the field. The father begins shouting slurs that would've gave Django the chills and continues to do so when his son - no older than eleven - chimes in and brings the hate in. Helgeland's focus of how racism spreads and feeds, while quiet and relatively unnoticeable, reminds me of how John Singleton's Rosewood portrayed how racism is passed on through generations through the voices of authoritative figures to be intercepted by their young sons.
Moreover, supporting performances are mostly competent and compelling, with the most convincing being Harrison Ford's Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers executive. Another sure to go under the radar is Lucas Black, who looks a tad like a younger Anthony Edwards. Black starred in the ho-hum Seven Days in Utopia about two years ago, assuming a likable state but not working much in the favor of a trite, contrived script. Here, Black is given a much wide range in a more interesting picture. He plays Pee Wee Reese, one of the few Dodger ballplayers that didn't object to Robinson's presence on the team solely because of his skin color. His character does something that sadly appears as a novelty back then and still somewhat does today; judges on character.
One of the supporting performances that seems sadly neglected is Nicole Beharie's, as Robinson's long-suffering wife, who must be vocally silenced, like her husband, in the face of discrimination and second-class citizen attitudes. Her struggle as a young mother trying to support her widely-loathed husband in the face of intolerance. Such a subplot could've but etched and drawn to fit germane to the hardships of Robinson, but the film decides to almost completely shortchange her story, even looking at their marriage as an insignificant footnote in his life.
My biggest complaint is the film's tonal personality, which is very bombastic and hits all the notes with a sort of jarring, bombastic attitude. To put it simply, you laugh when you're supposed to laugh, you may tear up when you should, and you are predictably enraged when the racism comes into play. 42 isn't subversive with your emotions, and doesn't allow you to have much of your own opinion or interpretation outside of what it's conveying, but yet it really doesn't need to. As welcomed as that would've been, when you watch a biopic on Jackie Robinson, or another cultural figure, you're sort of taking everything as it comes and you rarely form an opinion outside of what is being shown. If you approach the film with a willingness to indulge in the experience differently than others, this may be a tougher film to do that with. I almost wish that the Helgeland would've made the film more subtle and softer like its lead character.
And yet, 42 must be noted for its meticulous detail, right down to a steam locomotive in the background during one of the baseball games. The bright, scenic cinematography is another welcoming addition for such a story. While the tone may be a bit overblown and the heavy-handedness a bit too strong, it doesn't shortchange the film's impact as an inspirational piece of cinema. After all, sometimes that's why we go to the movies - in a bleak world, we need all the motivation we can get.
NOTE: My video review of 42, www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdO4wFUalmI
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Lucas Black, and Nicole Beharie. Directed by: Brian Helgeland.