Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"A handsome and suprisingly sturdy undertaking that explores the insidious effects of racism with a sharp eye." | Photo: Warner Bros Pictures

Although ostensibly a sports film, 42 is more concerned with the facets of American life in the late Forties than it is with the baseball diamond. At its heart stands Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play Major League baseball, and Branch Rickey, the white guy who helped him. Stepping up to the plate as Robinson is Chadwick Boseman, a powerful presence who boasts both brawn and beauty and brings a physicality to the role which, while no doubt more finely gym-chiselled than the real Jackie ever was, feels like a good fit. Backing him to the hilt is Harrison Ford, as Rickey, doing his gruff and twinkly best to strike an Oscar supporting actor nomination out of the park.

Brian Helgeland's film is a distilled biopic that picks up with Ricky in post-war 1945, when Rickey took him to the Brooklyn Dodgers with a view to progressing him up through the minor league, and tracks him through to his triumph of bringing down the colour barrier in 1947, in the Number 42 shirt of the title, which was retired when he left the game.

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Colour plays a strong role in the aesthetic of the film as well as its content, with Robinson starkly contrasted against everything from Branch's classy cream car to the white of the bleachers and the Dodgers uniform. It's a scrubbed up piece, with barely a hair out of place but in some ways that seems altogether fitting, given that much of its subject matter is to do not with open signs of racism but with the sort of prejudice that smiles sweetly to your while giving your seat to the white couple who were behind you. While the insults Robinson endures on the pitch are no doubt offensive and show the man's strength of character in resisting slugging it out, the casual slights in the locker room or the moment when racism arrives with a threat and a walking stick prove more disturbing.

Some of the action is no doubt a little 'on the nose' to make sure we get the full weight of the film's portent, while the music by Mark Isham bears more than a whiff of TV movie. There is also a sense of Helgeleand's screenplay occasionally puffing its chest out a little too much, particularly in the case of Rickey who, with all the good one-liners - "Dollars aren't black and white, they're green", "He's a Methodist, I'm a Methodist... And God's a Methodist; We can't go wrong." - threatens to overhsadow Robinson in places. This is because, by the nature of his enforced passivism on the pitch, Robinson is the less dynamic of the two men. We get more of a sense of him, and a tug of emotion from his scenes with wife Rachel (Nicole Beharie), and more of these would have been welcome to give more a feel for the man beyond his historic significance. This is nevertheless, like Robinson, a handsome and suprisingly sturdy undertaking that explores the insidious effects of racism with a sharp eye.

Reviewed on: 12 Sep 2013
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42 packshot
The story of the first African American baseball player Jackie Robinson.
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Director: Brian Helgeland

Writer: Brian Helgeland

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie, Christopher Meloni, Ryan Merriman, Lucas Black, Andre Holland, Alan Tudyk, Hamish Linklater, T.R. Knight, John C. McGinley, Toby Huss, Max Gail, Brad Beyer, James Pickens Jr.

Year: 2013

Runtime: 128 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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