|Film review: 42|
|Written by Ivan Radford|
|Thursday, 12 September 2013 17:34|
Director: Brian Helgeland
The word "game-changer" is used so much these days it's easy to be sick of it. But make an exception for 42, Brian Helgeland's biopic of Jackie Robinson. The first black man to play major league baseball, he was a proper game-changer - he actually changed the game. Even if you're tired of hearing the word, his is a story well worth seeing.
"I've got a plan..." rumbles Branch Rickie in the run-up to the 1947 season. Played by Harrison Ford with a constant lop-sided grin and surrounded by stuffing, he comes across as the love-child of an overweight Colonel Sanders and Richard Nixon. But it's impossible not to warm to his Bible-quoting, society-subverting ways: back in a bow tie and glasses for the first time since The Last Crusade, Harrison is having a whale of a time. If the whale were white, wearing a fat suit and sounded like Richard Nixon.
"Don't you want a player with the guts to fight back?" asks Jackie (Boseman). "I want a player with the guts NOT to fight back!" replies Rickie. The dialogue is hardly David Mamet; Basil Exposition makes several appearances, along with his friends Charlie Cliche and Henry-Handed Plot Point. "Are you really here to tell me you don't want to play on the same team as a black man?" Rickie begins one scene, in case we're not up to speed. But 42 makes up for Helgeland's unsubtle script with an unabashedly sentimental cast. Ford is the fun one, but Chadwick Boaseman delivers earnest a-plenty as the noble hero, turning his cheek to every white guy he meets.
Nicole Beharie is entertaining as his equally independent wife, making a point of pooping in the non-coloured toilets whenever she can, but she's relegated to the bench for most of the runtime, smiling from the crowd. Any domestic drama is left sitting next to her - they have a baby halfway through but he is never seen again, much to the alarm of no one. The result is a faintly hollow picture of this knight in shining jersey: a borderline hagiography of a man with no flaws and, trial by racism aside, little else to be interested in.
Credit to Helgelend, then, that he ramps up the tension when it counts: Robinson must fight on the pitch and the film is happy to do the same, flinging around the camera and skidding along in the dirt. Alan Tudyk is excellent as a foul-mouthed redneck who heckles Jackie from the dug-out, while his teammates make their own journey towards redemption believably awkward. "Why don't you shower with the team?" one of them asks Jackie. "Have a shower with me." He pauses. "That came out wrong."
42's knowing sense of humour, a moving sincerity and a neat eye for baseball scores a lot of points, even when it borders on TV movie of the week - and Ford and Boseman clearly enjoy stepping up to the plate. This is no home run, but it swings from the heart. Jackie's the real game-changer here - and that's what matters.
UK cinemas where 42 is showing: