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With baseball season underway and the summer movie season just around the corner, the baseball biopic "42" comes at just the right time. The film, directed by Brian Helgeland (an Academy Award winner for writing "L.A. Confidential"), follows gruff team executive Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) as he recruits Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman in a breakout role) to become the first African American to play for the major leagues. Critics have rallied around the film's performances, calling Boseman a major new talent and stating that Ford has started a new and exciting chapter of his career.
Despite that near universal praise, critics are divided about the film's portrayal of 1940s race relations, saying that it either doesn't go far enough or captures the hostilities with startling, and at times uncomfortable, accuracy. The film also stars Christopher Meloni, Alan Tudyk, Nicole Beharie and T.R. Knight in well-executed roles that threaten to steal the spotlight away from Boseman and Ford. A harder-edged Robinson biopic may be needed to accurately tell his story, but "42" offers an inspirational take that seems ready to make audiences cheer.
Read on for a sample of "42" reviews.
"When Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, spearheading the civil rights era before it had a name, he was subjected, on and off the field, to a degree of racial antagonism that could almost be called terrorism. For all its wholesomely uplifting, message-movie design, '42' makes that struggle look every bit as brutal and scary as it was... Jackie isn't allowed to fight back against any of the viciousness (if he did, it would look to mainstream America like he was the troublemaker), yet swallowing it eats up his spirit. How does he cope? By playing the hell out of the game." � Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
Smooths Out the Edges
"This is a smooth-edged treatment of a life full of sharp, painful, inspiring edges. Helgeland tips the narrative balance in the direction of Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, played here in a sustained grumble by Harrison Ford, opposite Chadwick Boseman's implacable Robinson. The latter's story cannot be brought to life without Rickey's, and vice versa; their fates and their places in history belonged to one another. But '42' settles for too little, for being an attractive primer, an introduction to the legend of Robinson and the faith that saw him through. The movie doesn't condescend. Rather, it protects and enshrines." � Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
First Great Film of 2013
"Let's just say it right out: the first great film of 2013 has arrived... Helgeland's emerging directorial skills have finally caught up with his established screenwriting credits, which include 'L. A. Confidential' and 'Mystic River'... Helgeland is aided by a stellar cast. Boseman, a TV actor with some minor film credits, commands the screen as Robinson, showing us just how hard it was to win the larger fight by simply being a great ballplayer. This is a star-making turn. Harrison Ford turns in the performance of his career as Branch Rickey. It's not too early to start speculating about next year's Oscars, and whether his studio will position him to be nominated for best actor or best supporting actor." � Daniel M.Kimmell, New England Movies Weekly
More Legend Than Man
"It's thoroughly embalmed in the glossy lacquer of conventional baseball movies, and limited further by trying to deal with the horrors of racism in that context. Written and directed by Brian Helgeland, whose credits range from scripting 'L.A. Confidential' to directing 'Payback' and 'A Knight's Tale,' the film functions as a tribute to Robinson's courage and dignity, and it's often stirring in that capacity. But it approaches him more as legend than man, muting the truly dangerous and menacing circumstances under which Robinson broke the color barrier and excelled as a major-league ballplayer. No true Jackie Robinson biopic would be rated PG-13." � Scott Tobias, A.V. Club
Harrison Ford's New Career
"A kind of feel-good movie about racism, '42' has some startlingly effective moments, especially whenever Harrison Ford is carving out what looks like a new career as a crusty character actor. He plays Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers manager and civil-rights pioneer who broke the color barrier by hiring an African-American talent, Jackie Robinson, to play ball on an otherwise all-white team in the mid-1940s. It's a fabulous part for an actor in aggressive transition." � John Hartl, The Seattle Times