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The student news site of Diablo Valley College.

The Inquirer

The student news site of Diablo Valley College.

The Inquirer

’42’ isn’t ready for the big show

In 1997, 42 became the first, and only number retired by the entirety of Major League Baseball.

In addition, every year the league celebrates Jackie Robinson Day – an honoring of the anniversary of his debut in Major League Baseball.

There is only one player who still wears the number 42: the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera, who is coincidentally the greatest closer in the history of baseball. To say that the legacy of Jackie Robinson, and his number 42 have been cemented forever into the lexicon of professional baseball would be an gross understatement.

The movie, “42,” looks to either regale the uninformed about the legendary tale of Robinson’s rise, or to merely cash in on his legacy, depending on who you ask and their level of cynicism.

Does this movie join the ranks of tremendous baseball films like “League of Their Own” and “Field of Dreams?” In one word, the answer is no, but not for lack of trying.

It would be a long stretch, and perhaps an overly-critical one, to call “42” a bad movie. It just seems uncomfortable in its own shoes and unwilling to stand too long in one particular place.

It tells the story of Robinson’s rise from a star player in the Kansas City Monarchs to his eventual ascension to the Brooklyn Dodgers through his own talent and the visionary ideas of the Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, who is played by Harrison Ford.

Robinson, played by Chadwick Boseman, faces many trials along the way. As his career was shaped by the racism of the times, so are Robinson’s these trials throughout the film.

From racist fans, to managers, to other players, Robinson is assaulted externally and within with the vitriol of the times. The eventual conquest of these challenges occupies much of the focus of the film. In addition, it also pays notice to the trials and tribulations of the films’ ancillary characters.

Robinson’s wife, Rachel, played by Nicole Beharie, is faced with the task of being not only the wife of a rising baseball star, but also an African American woman during a time when Jim Crow was still a name some held in great regard and people weren’t afraid to show their prejudices.

The plight of budding African American baseball writer Wendell Smith, played by Andre Holland, is similar. Although he eventually went on to become the first African American writer in the Baseball Writers Association of America, his story is also fraught with the conflicts of a time where black writers weren’t even allowed in the press box and he had to use a portable typewriter while sitting in the stands.

Thanks to most of the actors not being huge names in the Hollywood circuit, none of the acting, aside from a tinge of over-acting from Harrison Ford, ends up pulling the audience out of the experience. But the acting and the big-picture plot points of “42” aren’t the film’s main problem. It’s the pacing.

“42” seems like a movie that wanted to tell so many different stories, it didn’t have enough time to pick one or two threads to focus on. Instead it chooses to touch on all of them.

Subplots like Wendell Smith’s plight as a black baseball writer and Robinson’s relationships with his father and son are touching in their own way, but they way they are addressed is so quickly and singularly, you wonder why they were included into the final cut at all.

What at first seems like a touching scene where Robinson opens his heart to his newborn son, promising to be the father his own father never was, is quickly swept under the rug and never mentioned again. His child, and Robinson’s relationship with him, is almost never mentioned again. The difference between pre-baby and post-baby is that there is occasionally a baby in scenes for the rest of the film.

Another example is when Leo Durocher, played by Law and Order mainstay Christopher Meloni, gets suspended from professional baseball and is replaced by Burt Shutton, played by Max Gail. Shutton proceeds to serve almost no purpose for the rest of the film. Which is odd because the film dedicates multiple scenes to his hiring and introduction to the team.

Because of these scenes, and similar ones throughout the film, the overall pacing comes off as unfocused. It is really the way these scenes are used that causes the most damage to the films quality.

Any scene relating to the major plot points of Jackie overcoming the racism of the time and rising up to meet his own legacy, becomes bookended by these smaller stories. Because of this, the film never really gains any momentum and it’s overall message and impact is clouded by the noise of these peripheral stories.

Once a scene is quickly concluded, another story beat is added, concluded, and then quickly shuffled on to the next one. Because of this no single story beat stands out above the rest.

Another problem is that the story really doesn’t include falling action to speak of — Robinson knocks in a game winning run and the film cuts to a closing montage and credits — the film comes off as a series of climaxes that, cumulatively, provide none of the punch that a proper rising action and climax should.

With all that being said, “42” is still not a film whose faults border on offensive. The story of Robinson is timeless and the acting throughout is good enough to carry the film along despite its shortcomings. While you won’t hear “42” being brought up come Oscar season, it doesn’t do anything damaging enough to drag Robinson’s legacy down with it.

In the end, “42” is an OK film that tells a very uplifting and inspirational real-life tale of a man that doesn’t need a film to cement his legacy. It’s inoffensive to the viewer and really does get it close enough to warrant a view.

“42’s” greatest fault may simply be it couldn’t live up to the legacy of a man who changed a sport, and in a way, the entire country. A man like Robinson deserved a film about his life to be great. Instead “42” feels like it’s good enough and not much else.

CHADWICK BOSEMAN as Jackie Robinson in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ drama “42,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

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About the Contributor
Troy Patton
Troy Patton, Arts & Features Editor
Arts and features editor, spring 2013.

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’42’ isn’t ready for the big show