Jackie Robinson is too important a figure in American history to be the subject of such a banal, predictable film. Even people who couldn’t tell you where the shortstop typically plays knows the broad outlines of Robinson’s life story, especially his first year with the Dodgers. Unfortunately, “42” doesn’t tell its audience anything it doesn’t already know about its subject.
There was only one moment that grabbed my full attention. A father and pre-adolescent son are shown in the stands at a Dodgers away game. Their talk is all Norman Rockwell take me out to the ballgame, until Robinson takes the field. The father starts with the racist catcalls — again, anyone who knows Robinson’s story saw this coming — yet the son, reluctantly yet hoping to win his father’s approval, joins in. Here was a moment the film took a chance, presented its audience with an uncomfortable reality, showed how easily evil is intertwined with innocence. I wish there had been more moments like these, but sadly, this line shot to the wall was followed by three weak pop-ups, the runner, like the film, not advancing.
No review of this film would be complete without some outrageous rhetorical effort to describe Harrison Ford’s portrayal of Branch Rickey. How about — a foul ball drilled painfully onto the instep? Or — a performance that makes his Han Solo seem nuanced and understated? Maybe — it’s like watching a train wreck, except there’s no trains, no collision, and the conductor sounds like The Penguin? Perhaps just this — Chadwick Boseman’s Robinson left me wanting more, but five seconds of Ford’s Rickey was four too many.