3½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including language
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand
Writer-director Brian Helgeland delivers his best movie with “42,” a sharp, earnest tale about Jackie Robinson’s contributions to Major League Baseball. Although Robinson was an outstanding player who appeared in six consecutive All-Star Games, he is best remembered as the man who broke the color barrier.
Major League Baseball did not officially exclude black players from the game in the 1940s, but there was an unwritten rule among owners. That changed when Brooklyn Dodgers manager Branch Rickey signed Robinson to a farm club in 1946 and to the Dodgers in 1947.
In “42,” Helgeland deftly tells the story of Robinson’s signing, as well as the pressure both he and Rickey faced once the color barrier was broken. There have been other sports movies about racial barriers, including “Remember the Titans,” “Glory Road” and “The Express.” Since these are excellent pictures, it would have been easy for “42” to feel stale or subpar, but Helgeland doesn’t allow that.
Robinson’s story is compelling, and Helgeland paces the film well. More importantly, he uses his cast superbly. Harrison Ford turns in one of the best performances of his career as Rickey, an aging businessman hoping to give something back to the game he loves. Chadwick Boseman, although a relative unknown, is equally good as Robinson. He appropriately portrays the ballplayer as a strong, proud man who endures racial slurs only because fighting back would hurt other blacks hoping to enter professional sports.
The title of the film, of course, refers to the number on Robinson’s jersey, which has been retired from use in all of Major League Baseball. That alone says something about the impact the man had on the game. Helgeland’s movie says even more.
DVD, Blu-ray and digital extras include a behind-the-scenes feature.
By Forrest Hartman