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This Jackie Robinson biopic is an audio/video stunner on Blu-ray, but is the movie any good...?
Warner / 128 Minutes / 2013 / Rated PG-13 / Street Date: July 16, 2013
Jackie Robinson’s biography is one of the pivotal facets of 20th century baseball, and it makes sense that Hollywood has finally gotten around to giving the guy biopic appreciation. But 42 doesn’t give the legend the dramatic merit he so richly deserves. While the movie hits the bullet-points of the ball player’s life with Cliff’s Notes reliability, 42 never sparks – it addresses the imperative elements of Jackie’s life and times, but never breathes an organic breath.
The movie’s best moments come when young Jackie (Chadwick Boseman) first arrives in the big league. The general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers (Harrison Ford) sees value in the player after he’s played in both the Negro Leagues and the Dodgers’ Minor League affiliates, and while he understands that the public at large resists racial integration pretty much across the board, he sees something in Robinson that manifests both strong ball playing and resilience to audience outcry.
And boy, does Jackie get an earful. Robinson’s iconic status gets firmly established by the end of 42, but his rise to national stardom is coupled with some seriously intense rigors, and this is where 42’s rose-tinted glasses do it a disservice. Most reviews of the movie have no problem putting it squarely in made-for-TV territory, and there’s a reason for this: 42 addresses the powderkeg that Robinson’s racial presence brought to the country, but it never gets down to the nitty gritty.
In short, 42 is a movie that checks off the biopic boxes one by one, but as a standalone affair, it feels thin and obligatory. Production design here is exceptional, and the film’s musical score totally works in terms of full Natural bravura. But 42 ends up appearing like a movie made by committee: Jackie Robinson’s saga is an intrinsic part of our collective baseball narrative, but he deserves a movie that is as illuminating and inspiring as his legend.