In chronicling the real-life tale of Jackie Robinson, who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947 when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, 42 is schmaltzy, sentimental and shameless. There is no dabbling in highfalutin niceties like subtext or nuance. Writer-director Brian Helgeland, who penned the hardly simplistic L.A. Confidential, keeps his focus simple and is content to let his hero worship fly.
Relative unknown Chadwick Boseman (TV’s Persons Unknown) gives a stirring, if uncomplicated, performance as the supremely gifted ballplayer who was playing in the Negro Leagues when Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford, Cowboys & Aliens) plucked him for the “great experiment” of integrating baseball. Ford lapses into caricature as the crustier-than-crusty Rickey, but the approach seems fitting for a movie so proudly old-fashioned.
In fact, the whole production feels like the cinematic version of an old baseball storybook aimed at adolescents. But the saga of Robinson, who endured the bigotry of his time without fighting back — a promise he had made Rickey as a condition of his being the trailblazer — is too inspiring to really screw up. Thankfully, 42 delivers the goods. —Phil Bacharach