A decent biopic of baseball star Jackie Robinson, written and directed by LA Confidential's Brian Helgeland
The story of Jackie Robinson, the inspirational baseball player who wore the number 42, is well known in the US, but somewhat less familiar elsewhere. This crowd-pleasing biopic, written and directed by LA Confidential scribe Brian Helgeland, is likely to be a tough sell to non-baseball fans, but the central strand of a sporting victory over racism has a universal appeal.
The first African-American player to play in major league baseball, Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) is introduced playing for the Kansas City Monarchs in the minors, but his physical prowess and talent makes a move upwards inevitable. A spot in the Brooklyn Dodgers team beckons, but sheer ability is not enough; Robinson needs help to overcome institutional tradition, and gets it in the form of Dodgers’ businessman Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), who has made it his stated ambition to break the colour barrier, knowing that the financial benefits of tapping into a large un-served African-American audience are considerable.
Rickey’s real motivations for engineering Robinson’s passage towards baseball immortality are never in real doubt in this single-minded account; Robinson’s conflicts are restricted to a gallery of small-minded coaches, players and sport-fans who bear racist prejudice against him, and are all easily dealt with on the playing field. With Rickey’s curmudgeonly character nicely played by Ford, the way is clear for Robinson to display the saintly stoicism required to become a role-model and legend.
The bland schematics of 42 are considerably less interesting that those described in 2011’s Moneyball, with little complexity about how the games are managed or played, just a series of racist characters presented as skittles for Robinson to bowl over. Helgeland has crafted a decent sport movie, but one that feels too sanitized and feels too educationally minded to prove any genuine thought.
Limited release from Fri 13 Sep.