The story of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier finally comes to the silver screen in "42." Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman filed the following review for NY1.
These days, there are many less flattering things you could say about a movie than that it's enjoyable in a squarely old-fashioned way. "42", a sports drama about how Jackie Robinson broke the color line in professional baseball, is in many ways a film that could have been made 30 years ago, or 50 years ago.
The movie depicts Robinson, played by the dazzling little-known actor Chadwick Boseman, as a fearless, noble athlete/crusader, which, of course, is just what he was, though "42" scarcely spends three minutes trying to find any flaws in him (surely he must have had one) or giving him a sprinkle of idiosyncrasy.
The writer-director, Brian Helgeland, works in what I think of as a conservative, or maybe it's just really, really basic, neoclassical Hollywood style, spelling everything out, letting the story unfold in a plainspoken and deliberate way.
Yet in one vital way, "42" feels very contemporary. 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. And "42" makes that struggle look every bit as brutal and scary as it was. Jackie isn't allowed to fight back (if he did, it would look to mainstream America like he's the troublemaker), yet swallowing it eats up his spirit.
How does he cope? By playing the hell out of the game. He was a wizard at stealing bases, and the movie glories in his quickness and bravado, as his athletic showmanship becomes part of the racial psychodrama.
Boseman gives Robinson a stare that's penetrating and guarded at the same time. A lot of the film’s drama is reading that face, the intelligence and masked outrage.
As Branch Rickey, the forward-thinking Dodgers general manager who recruits Robinson, Harrison Ford seems to have reinvented himself as an actor. He gives an ingeniously stylized cartoon performance, though with that growl of Fordian anger just beneath it. Calling Robinson into his office, he tells him that he needs a player who doesn't so much have the guts to fight back as the guts not to fight back. "42" is a rousing tribute to how impossible, and therefore heroic, a stance that was.