I’m not a huge fan of sports movies in general; the last two I remember enjoying was Remember the Titans (2000) and Invictus (2009), both of which coincidentally dealt with racial segregation in the South of (of the United States and Africa, respectively). Perhaps suggesting that 42 is formulaic is an understatement.
Brian Helgeland, writer of a plethora of outstanding ﬁlms such as L.A Conﬁdential, Man on Fire, and A Knight’s Tale takes a stab at this tribute to the life of Jackie Robinson. For what it’s worth, the ﬁlm is very well cast, featuring the talents of Harrison Ford as the eccentric Branch Ricky and Chadwick Boseman as the up-and-coming superstar Robinson. I was also pleased to see a charming cameo appearance by John C. McGinley as charismatic radio announcer Red Barber, bringing some much needed spunk to the ﬁlm. Strangely, though performances in general were all solid, all of the acting seemed to run together into some undeﬁnable homogenous mass, with no real bright spots, yet virtually without ﬂaw at the same time. Therein lies the root of 42’s problem.
I heard another critic refer the the ﬁlm as something that could have almost been manufactured by a machine, which is the common trap that many sports movies fall into. By that, I mean that there are no real deﬁning characteristics which elevate the ﬁlm above its peers. I fear that without something- anything- to set 42 apart from the myriad other sports ﬁlms in the past decade, it will very quickly be forgotten. The strange thing about the whole affair is that while it’s very competently strung together, with a coherent yet simplistic plot, decent acting, editing, direction, and score, it just feels so safe and committee-designed that there is nothing that can really be said about the ﬁlm apart from the superﬁcial. In many ways, it’s kind of the Dead Space (a popular horror video game) of the cinematic world. It’s so unchallenging and inoffensive that I can guarantee that we won’t be talking about it next year, or even next month for that matter.
I’m a little disappointed in Helgeland here, who wrote and directed, because I know that he can offer us more than what we’re getting here. Man on Fire is one of my favorite movies for it’s rich and intriguing setting and deeply conﬂicted characters. That’s the kind of material I would expect from someone with a resume such as his. I do think that a lot of the ultimate blandness, however, stems from the story that he was trying to tell.
Granted, I understand that it would have been slightly disingenuous to make Robinson an ex-junkie trying to bounce back from a debilitating smack addiction, but in this instance, I believe that it would have helped Helgeland’s case to take some more daring artistic liberties. I’d recommend 42 only to those hardcore fans of sports movies, but if that’s indeed the case, why not kick back at home and watch an actual sporting event?