Brian Helgeland’s 42 is a serviceable biopic for one of the most important baseball players of all time, Jackie Robinson. 42 isn’t as deep as it should be or nearly as interesting as it could have been, but it does a good job getting across one of America’s most important sports figures, thanks to Chadwick Boseman’s performance and Helgeland’s understanding of how to assemble specific scenes to elicit a strong emotional reaction from the audiences.
Some might call 42 a cheap and quick cash-in on a name, while others will claim it to be that much-needed sports drama to reflect on Robinson’s career in a dramatic way. The result is something that lands somewhere in the middle, servicing the legend just fine and delivering enough drama to shed some tears, but still leaving those in search for the perfect sports drama left out in the cold.
Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) is without a doubt one of the most important sports figures of all-time. He’s also an inspirational American that helped pave the way for African Americans during a time of severe racism and segregation. Jackie Robinson showed his strength and courage, despite being almost always thrown up against a fence, because he knew that what he was doing was much bigger than playing pro baseball. What he was doing was changing the way the country looked at segregation and racism and without his incredible talent and constant striving for change, America wouldn’t be the country that it is today.
42 is the story of Jackie Robinson and how he went from just some talented African American ballplayer to one of the most popular athletes of all-time. This happened because Jackie really was that impressive and because of a money-hungry team executive named Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford). Rickey saw Robinson as a way to make extra cash by expanding the diversity of the team, but soon he realized that both he and Jackie would be tackling racism and segregation head-on unlike anyone else in the history of baseball had done before.
Together the two made for one of baseball’s most unlikely pairings and the result is a film that shows many positives and very few negatives. Brian Helgeland’s 42 is a fine sports drama, but not a great one. 42 glosses over a lot of the important moments of Jackie’s life to instead focus on the more inspirational ones. The film feels like a highlight reel of all good moments, while only briefly showing us some of the nasty ones. This weighs down heavily on the film, because it creates a surface-level drama that earns a few honest tears, but mostly gets by on an overly-sapping musical score and a solo strong performance by Boseman as the film’s lead.
Chadwick Boseman does a fantastic job showing both the everyday person and the sports icon. Robinson has issues and Boseman is never afraid to show that. The athelete was known for his hot temper and Boseman has no problem exposing that, while also showing the strength that Robinson possessed to maintain his cool when he had every single right not to. Boseman’s ability to show what Robinson is thinking every single moment without even having to say anything is impressive and brings an added sense of realism to the character.
Harrison Ford’s Branch Rickey is the typical grumpy old-timer that Ford has been known to play recently, but he does come with enough heart and back story to make you want to care. Ford has certainly phoned in a role or two from time to time, but for 42 he’s completely dedicated to the craft and the performance he delivers mostly works thanks to his usually frowned upon gargles and grumbles. Ford goes a little overboard with the delivery of certain lines, but he does it to make things more dramatic when needed, or a funny if the scene calls for something lighter. It mostly works, while occasionally coming across as a mismatch of tone or scene purpose.
42 ultimately sinks into far too familiar territory because of Brian Helgeland’s skimmed over direction. Scenes work very well when focused on, but most of the story shifts around far too fast and without much attention to detail to really resonate properly. Most will find moments of true sadness and happiness, but none of it is ever earned on-screen and instead leans on the actual real-life struggles that Robinson faced to pull an emotion from the audience.
The film’s intentions are largely positive and that alone makes it a fair pass, but those expecting something deeper or more detailed will be severely disappointed. 42 is an inspirational film that briefly shows Robinson’s struggles, but it mostly focuses on his overcoming of the odds and not so much the odds themselves, making the drama feel cheap and weightless when it should be coming down heavy and hitting hard.
42 absolutely shines on Blu-Ray. The film was shot digitally, yet it maintains a fair amount of film-like quality in its 1080p presentation. WB’s transfer destroys all previous expectations and delivers one of the strongest-looking transfers that I’ve seen all summer. Skin tones and minor details are amplified and expanded upon, while general locations tend to pop off of the screen. Baseball fields feature deep and absorbent greens and browns, while the city life and general out-of-the-stadium scenery comes to life with a crisp and defined image.
The film’s 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track comes extremely close to hitting a home run, but never quite reaches that point. Dialogue is bolted down on the front channels, while rear activity mostly consists of ambiance and general baseball stadium chatter. There’s a strong sense of depth clarity on the back channels, which helps the viewer feel like they’re literally in the stadium watching the game unfold in front of their eyes.
The following bonus materials can be found on the combo pack:
- Behind the Scenes: Stepping Into History (HD) – A short, but semi-interesting look at the portrayal of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson.
- Behind the Scenes: Full-Contact Baseball (HD) – A closer look at the harshness and physical aspect of the sport of Baseball in the 1940’s.
- Short Feature: The Legacy of Number 42 (HD) – A discussion of the iconic number made famous by Jackie Robinson.
- DVD Copy
- UltraViolet Digital Copy
42 isn’t the best telling of Jackie Robinson’s personal life or career, but it’s still a moving film that has its sights set for good things. It just doesn’t deliver on a level that’s considered deep or moving beyond a few shots of Robinson overcoming one of the film’s many obstacles.
Brian Helgeland’s direction glosses over most of the important moments in hopes of getting a few quick tears out of the audience and because of that 42 is nothing more than okay. A rental would be wise, since WB delivers with fine picture and audio presentations, but not so much on the special features front, which are short and lacking.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-Ray that we received for reviewing purposes.