As a Chattanooga native I feel like I have to like 42. After all, Harrison Ford came to Chattanooga to film, a good bit of it was filmed at Engel Stadium, I recognized a few extras (luckily they weren’t in the racist crowd section), and Harrison Ford came to Chattanooga. Did I mention I was within a few miles of Han Solo? Talk about a missed opportunity. I would have gone into psycho fan mode, jumping on his van just to hear him say “Get off my bus!” before punching me off (if you don’t get that, go watch Air Force One, kids). But having a job gets in the way of such pursuits. Hence, I went to the theater instead.
It would have been easy for 42 to feel heavy-handed or even cheesy in its near-spotless portrayal of Jackie Robinson. I mean, c’mon, he’s an icon of racial equality and sports, and no studio is going to put out a movie that makes him look less than a legend. By the end, you end up with some sort of Hallmark movie knockoff where the film makers glare at you for not bawling at their emotional manipulation.
Luckily, that’s not the case. Yes, the movie plays by the rulebooks (zing!) and doesn’t really try anything new outside the “inspirational sports film” formula. Why does this work? Answer: Chadwick Boseman and his portrayal of Robinson. It’s fearless yet vulnerable, believable and iconic. In fact, it’s more believable than Harrison Ford’s fake bushy eyebrows in the movie. Speaking of, Harrison Ford had some great moments, although it took a while to get over his voice. Nicole Beharie as Mrs. Robinson also stood out. Scrubs alum John C. McGinley playing a very different role as sportscaster Red Barber provided enough dry humor to keep the game segments moving. I did raise an eyebrow when Brett Cullen from Person of Interest called Robinson the n-word (shame on you, Nathan Ingram).
I’ll be honest. I’m not a baseball guy. I enjoy talking through a game rather than watching it, hoping for something to happen. This isn’t my normal type of movie (Ford didn’t even crack a whip). The soundtrack was forgettable. But when the source material is real and inspiring, and the acting is (mostly) solid, I’d have a hard time not recommending this movie.