In the recent film “42,” released on April 12, director Brian Helgeland chronicles the harrowing story of baseball great Jackie Robinson.
One of the most important questions is just how relevant the story is to actual historical records. Like many stories of real-life heroes, the need to stay historically accurate can either turn an audience off or make them feel as if they were immersed in time.
But with a heroic figure such as Jackie Robinson, would they take the risk of tainting his reputation by showing the grit and less-than-pleasant aspects of his life such as the racial tension within his own clubhouse?
Deterioration of racial barriers in baseball began in 1947 when Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers and became the first African-American to play Major League Baseball.
The main character, the make-or-break role of the film, is played by Brooklyn-native Chadwick Boseman, whose resume includes “Castle” and “CSI:NY.” Boseman does a fantastic job of intertwining emotional power and a likeable charm. In a grim situation, Boseman was able to convey lighter moments to break up the still controversial subject matter.
With such great potential for a powerful performance, the film limits the range of depth that Boseman is able to portray. There is little to no allusion of Robinson’s inner workings or any explanation as to what makes him tick, which gives the feeling of paying for a film that could be explained in a baseball history anthology. The character simply doesn’t develop in the way that it should. The various moments throughout the film where screams and heckling from white spectators would have been an excellent time to expand on Robinson’s feelings or motives to continue with the sport.
Lending his extensive experience to “42,” Harrison Ford plays Branch Ricky, general manager of the Dodgers. Ford, though his character, makes Rickey an engaging character who invests a substantial amount of interest in Robinson.
As truly inspirational the Jackie Robinson story is, due to the lack of depth, the movie is a bit corny and cliché.
However, the amount of bigotry throughout the film can put a lump in the throat of the toughest people and even parallel the journey of President Barack Obama’s election in 2008 or the progress of the gay marriage movement.
With that said, the film sticks to the period. According to history, Rickey added Robinson to the roster to boost ticket sales, which is shown in the movie. The locations, names and characters are all accurate for the most part.
In many ways, the film reflects the hopes of those around Robinson as opposed to Robinson’s inner turmoil and evolution. The change comes in Robinson’s audience, who takes a step from segregation toward equality with the acceptance of Robinson’s talent.
Overall this film accomplishes what it set out to do, by reaching number one in the box office during its first week.
The depiction of Robinson lacks depth that a viewer may have desired from a big-budget film. Some may have argued that this film made a substantial amount of money because of the moral obligation that our modern society may have to the groundbreaking moves of Robinson. But the film made its money and ultimately accomplished its goal.