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Film review: '42' scores a triple

April 15, 2013|By BOB GARVER | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • This film image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson, left, and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey in a scene from "42." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, D. Stevens)
D. Stevens / AP

Too many weeks ago, I proclaimed "Jack the Giant Slayer" to be the first half-decent movie of 2013. Now along comes "42," and I am proclaiming it to be the first really good movie of 2013. It should not have taken us more than three months to get the first really good movie of 2013 (even with my understanding that the post-holiday season is a dumping ground for the studios' garbage releases), but that shouldn't diminish the achievements of "42" as an admirable sports film.

The film tells the story of pioneering black baseball player Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) and his heroic seasons with the 1946 Montreal Royals and, of course, the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson encounters racism wherever he goes, whether it be from locals from the towns he visits to representatives of opposing teams to his own teammates. He's usually stoic enough not to rebuff the bigots, but he does prove that he belongs in the major leagues by playing great baseball.

Not that Robinson doesn't have his supporters. There's his wife, Rachel (Nicole Beharie), and his reporter friend, Wendell (Andre Holland). Then there's Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), the man who took the all-important first step in signing a black player. As Rickey, Ford gives his best performance in a long time, maybe the best of his career. He puts enough phlegm into every line to make for instantly memorable quotes. There's a reason why his voice dominates all the film's advertisements.

The film is filled with inspirational moments on and off the field. The ones off the field are fine (and often provide the film with some much-needed comic relief), but it's the ones on the field that you're paying to see. It's not that they go unexpectedly; in fact, there will be many who say they're cliché, but they're about as wonderful as they are in all the great baseball movies. I guess you can never go wrong with those exciting scenes where the hero has everything on the line, they make an amazing play and the crowd goes wild.

The film has its flaws. It is, of course, based on a true story, but I seriously doubt that the true story was this sappy. It seems too often that scenes are constructed to elicit an emotional response and they don't seem natural. There are also too many unnecessary subplots bouncing around. Particularly distracting is one involving outspoken Dodgers manager Leo Durocher (Christopher Meloni), an affair, a scandal, and the quest to replace him. The spot is filled with a nice enough guy, but he barely appears for the rest of the movie and the storyline essentially has no payoff.

Because there was a ridiculous controversy over this issue with "Django Unchained" a few months ago, I feel the need to report that the film is filled with racial epithets, including the "N-word." I don't see how the film could not have these words, given their historical context and how essential racism is to the plot. You'll likely feel uncomfortable, but the point is to make you feel that way so you can empathize with Robinson. Still, if you or your family can't handle hate speech, then this is definitely not the film for you because there's a lot of it.

"42" is an exemplary baseball movie that doubles as an exemplary historical movie. The performances and technical details are all top-notch. In fact, I wouldn't rule out the possibility of Oscar nominations for Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford. It is easily the best film of the year so far, not that the competition was all that stiff. By all means you should support this film so Hollywood can get back to really trying again.

Three and a Half Stars out of Five.

"42" is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including language. Its running time is 128 minutes.

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