Saturday, May 11, 2013

42 (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Brian Helgeland (A Knight's Tale) smartly directs "42" the handsome biopic about Jackie Robinson, the first African-American baseball player in the  major leagues. The film is in the style of many traditional baseball films including  "Moneyball" (2011) and "The Natural" (1984), but in terms of social context "42" is in the mode of Carl Franklin's "Devil in a Blue Dress" (1995). In both films we have earnest and forthright men (all with one-liners and a grace which should not be overlooked) who are driven to reveal the truth and push boundaries under the weight of  a post WWII racist America. Though he is not a private investigator, Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman)  is in the shadow of bigoted and hateful folk who pursue him with the intensity of noir villains. In one scene, Robinson is tickling his wife (Nicole Beharie) and is  abruptly approached by a suspicious southern stranger. As it turns out, the stranger reaches out to congratulate Robinson, not threaten him. This one instance could have been right out of Hitchcock. Appearances can be deceiving.

Robinson has a rather dry and bemused manner though it all, but he is also a soldier in the most disturbing episodes. Pitches are fired at him like cannonballs. Some balls have teeth and he usually ducks. But during one horrible outing of disgusting name-calling, Robinson goes into an understandable rage. He screams and smashes his bat. While he could be thought of as an occasional antihero or The Outsider,  as he marches out from under the clubhouse, shaded in  slanted half light, he more resembles Superman. Robinson is a hero we can all relate to, no need for Krypton.

Harrison Ford has a good outing as well as Robinson's manager, Branch Rickey. Ford is cranky but entertaining as a 1940s rapid fire man who loves baseball and cites biblical passages. He is no cardboard Dick Tracy character and there is real energy exchanged between Ford and Boseman.

The major credit however should be given to director  Helgeland who gives us some virtuosic perspectives, putting us square at home plate while still steeped in the tradition of fine sports films as well as a hint of a 1940s detective thriller, given that Robinson must aways trace his steps in an ignorant America.

Chadwick Boseman is as iconic as Christopher Reeve, a modern day Superman, in this role.  He is neither self righteous, nor agenda-fumed. He simply does what is correct in loving the game.

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1 comment:

Paula Angelique Hafner said...

This may have been my favorite of the year. I knew very little of the Jackie Robinson story or all he went through, not only as the first black baseball player but the first black professional athlete who opened the doors for everyone. A true story of the spirit of the human condition.