Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Video review: "42"

Saccharine and starry-eyed, "42" places Jackie Robinson on a pedestal and peers in awe at the baseball icon. Writer/director Brian Helgeland's biopic of the first African-American to play major league baseball tries and largely succeeds to get at the real man behind the myth. But it also ladles on the hagiography in portions too huge to choke down comfortably.

Chadwick Boseman aptly plays Robinson, one of the top players in the Negro League who was carefully selected to integrate baseball. Branch Rickey, the legendary general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, knew he needed a player who could not only hit and field, but also accept the slings and arrows of white society without showing any public protest.

The result was a trying rookie year for Robinson and his wife (Nicole Beharie) as he endured racial taunts and threats from fans, opposing teams and even his own dugout.

Helgeland takes us behind the scenes to show us what the constant assault on his dignity cost Robinson -- in one crackling scene, serenely accepting the racial epithets hurled at him by an opposing manager, then shattering his bat in frustration off the field.

Harrison Ford is excellent as Rickey, a crotchety wheeler-dealer with a secret sentimentality he labors hard to conceal. At first the performance seems cartoony and over-the-top. But Ford slyly shows us how Rickey used his outsized personality and kitschy mannerisms as a prop to get his way.

The movie's best moments are in exploring the relationship between baseball player and boss, the traditional power dynamic swaying and crumbling as the men development genuine respect and affection for each other.

"42" may too often indulge in hero worship instead of character development. But there's no denying this film packs a humdinger of a wallop.

Extra features are rather disappointing. The DVD edition comes only with a single featurette, "Stepping into History," about the integration of baseball. Upgrading to the Blu-ray version adds two more mini-documentaries: "Full-Contact Baseball" and "The Legacy of the Number 42."

For a movie that hits a solid double dramatically, it's a shame they saw fit to bunt on the video goodies.



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