HOLLYWOOD—The inspiring story of Jackie Robinson hit theaters this past weekend, earning the #1 spot with over $27 million in box office sales.
The film recaps the life of Robinson and how he broke the color barrier as the first African-American to play Major League Baseball.
Robinson had a decade-long career playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, including helping them win the World Series in 1955, and is historically viewed as a man who pioneered a civil rights movement for black athletes in America. “42” is not the full biography of Jackie Robinson, as it mainly centers on Robinson’s 1946 and 1947 seasons.
In the midst of a largely prejudiced society, Robinson’s enrollment on the team is not a welcome one. He must face the discrimination of angry baseball fans, crooked umpires, and even his own teammates as he takes the field. Despite his own willingness to fight back, Robinson is shepherded by Rickey to focus on the game and win over his fans, and more importantly, his team by being the best he can be.
In 1947, Rickey officially places Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers, which catapults not only his career, but the antagonism he faces. With the love and support of his wife (Nicole Beharie), and with the aid of a kind journalist (Andre Holland), Robinson works to be the skilled player his team needs, and ultimately earns their acceptance and respect.
For the most part, “42” has received positive reviews from critics and public audiences alike. It’s a heartfelt story that is not only a great piece of civil rights and baseball history, but it is also an inspiring account of bravery when confronted with intolerance and bigotry.
Directed by Brian Helgeland, “42” is proving to be a moving experience for many. And while I enjoyed the film, I was not as impressed as I wanted to be.
The script is catered to a PG/family audience, with the most offensive parts of the film being the use of the “N” word. The peak of the film’s “racist moments” were nothing more than name-calling, and maybe one or two pitches at Robinson’s head as he took the batting plate.
This expurgated approach to Robinson’s hardship as an unwanted, outcast ballplayer made his struggle difficult to accept at times. And while there were several wonderful moments that beamed through, the film as a whole has a Disney-esque feel.
A point the camera and shoot type of production, "42" is plainly told. The plot is needlessly spelled out, the bad guys are not so bad, and the sentimentality gushes, making it insignificant when the time actually calls for it.
My largest disappointment with “42” was in the lack of character development in Robinson. We need to believe in what he is doing, and we need to root for him. It seemed that the build of who Robinson was off of the field fell flat, and therefore, it was hard to get behind him and those pushing him to succeed.
Overall, I would say the film’s story had great potential and great heart, but the impact was softened with contrived moments, not-quite developed characters, and a general “family-movie” style that doesn’t belong in a biopic about a black athlete facing racism in the 1940’s.
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