April 5, 2013


This review is dedicated to memory of Roger Ebert,
one of the movie reviewer greats (he made movie reviewing virile
 and something to be reckoned with!) who died on
Blessed Fr. James Alberione’s 129th birthday, April 4, 2013.
After over 100 years of cinema, film has no patron saint.
Many have been proposed, but the Church has rejected them all.
We are hoping it will be James Alberione who was a filmmaker himself
and wrote much about the power of film.

A new film on the sports career of major league baseball color-barrier-breaker, Jackie Robinson, is a must-see! The film is simply called “42,” for Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers’ number. Forty-two is the only number in baseball that has been retired, and is now worn by all MVP players in commemoration of Robinson’s achievements.

This film should be seen—if possible—on the big screen. It is a lush, grand period piece with an Aaron Copland-style Americana orchestral and muted brass soundtrack. BUT this is not a trite, simplistic “let’s project 2013 on 1948” message-film with feel-good, righteous messages about equality. The concepts and the dialogue are fresh and original. It’s the story of a reluctant hero (Robinson is played by lookalike Chadwick Boseman*) who just wanted to play baseball, and a major league baseball executive who just wanted to win (Branch Rickey is played by Harrison Ford). Writer-director Brian Helgeland is a genius filmmaker-artist. Check out his eclectic, prolific résumé on www.imdb.com. Oh, and he graduated from Jesuit Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles (considered one of the country’s top 10 film schools), and he’s a New Englander. You know him from the uber-brilliant “L.A. Confidential,” “Mystic River” and much more.

The cinematography (Don Burgess of “Flight,” “Spiderman,” “Forrest Gump,” “Enchanted”), color-palette, lighting, etc., is impeccable. If you like Technicolor and the expansive feel of Hollywood films from the 50’s and 60’s, then “42” is for you. “42” is baseball’s “Sound of Music.” Without the music. Even most of the mammoth crowd scenes (in the bleachers) appear to be real people and not blow-up extras (like “Seabiscuit” used). This film manages to be grandiose and intimate at the exact same time.

The well-cast ensemble of characters are interesting, and the whole story is consistent and cohesive. A gracefully-aged Harrison Ford carries a big part of the drama as the risk-taking Rickey who hires Robinson. The dialogue is rich and ordinary, surprising and funny, really has something to say, utterly quotable while avoiding clichés. The dialogue feels like, well, LITERATURE. Must be because Helgeland is a well-read, well-spoken New Englander. The time is post-war 40’s, but Helgeland doesn’t indulge in quippy, overly-stylized, of-the-times banter.  Instead, he employs plain talk, and never falls into anachronistic blunders of using modern-day lingo like so many screenwriters.

Nothing drags in “42.” Just when things seem most peaceful, discord erupts. Just when things are most heated, they are resolved, or simmer down.

A ton of expository information is thrown at us in the very beginning (this seems to be a trend these days—exactly what “Argo” did), with voice-over and montages. I would rather have jumped into and gotten invested in the story, the characters, baseball (yuck), and then done some backing up to explain the state of the Union and the sport.

There are so many organic moments of tension, and the myriad forms of prejudice, bigotry and downright cruelty manifest exactly what Robinson was up against from the get-go. There is a slow build of the levels of conflict and the obstacles he faced. And yet, the overriding tone of the film is one of joy and success peeking and peering through the lives of determined people who stuck their necks out and went against the grain. As Rickey muses: Laws can be broken and people may even think you’re clever if you get away with it, but break a code, an unwritten law and you’ll never be forgiven. We need to keep reminding ourselves that the civil rights movement of the 60’s was still a long way off. Ingrained racist customs (especially, but not exclusively, in the South), segregation and other discriminatory laws were firmly in place and enforced.
One of the film’s many sources of humor is the fact that Rickey is a devout Methodist (like Robinson) and has no problem beating people up with religion.

Everything about this film feels like it’s coming from a truly noble and good place.
*Boseman has managed to keep his birth date off of www.imdb.com, something many actors have been trying to do. Somehow he has managed to commandeer his own page on imdb—it looks like his own promotional set-up. Smart guy. And a really cute smile. His current residence is Brooklyn. J Studied at the British American Dramatic Academy at Oxford. It shows.


--Best film of 2013.

--Even the typeface choice for the subtitles is perfect.

--Does the trailer look all Hallmark-y? It ain’t. NOT SAPPY. I repeat: NOT SAPPY.

--Robinson has a great character flaw in the film: his temper. But so does his perhaps even more feisty wife.

--I really, really dislike baseball, but this film made me care about it intensely, at least for the duration of the film. J

--This makes me wanna make my hockey movie now more than ever.

--How did Helgeland light this so well (even the indoor scenes)? Seems like he used lots of natural light streaming through windows....

--All the actors are superb, but Christopher Meloni ("Law & Order: SVU") is a total scene-stealer as Leo Durocher, the Dodgers' manager, who barks out one of the best short tirades against racism ever. :)

--Everything is so well-dramatized. Lots of “showing not telling,” and nothing is “on the nose.”

--Bring the kids! Especially the boys—so they can see what real men are made of (and not made of). It’s PG-13 because of language (but no F-bombs). The Dad in my screening just kept leaning over to his 7-year-old son each time saying: “That’s a bad word.”

--There are a few false notes, but very few. Like when Robinson is talking to his newborn son. For our sake.

--In some ways, this film is a study in non-violence. Creative non-violence. Very creative non-violence. Or rather: “non-violent action.”

--I’ve always wondered how people of color can STAND being so maltreated to their faces, especially Black men. I really think it would make me perpetually angry, bitter, and probably violent. This film will make you feel that. You will feel all the silent outrage that Robinson feels. AND also how he chooses to overcome.

--Lots of mini-Oscar moments. Every actor shines. But is it too early for the Academy to be thinking of 2014?

--I went to Robinson’s alma mater, UCLA!

--The excessive use of the “n” word is really hard to take.

--Things do not just happen “magically” in this film. Things don’t just work out all hunky-dory.

--Grown-ups made this film.

--Well-crafted. Mature but accessible. Satisfying. Enriching. Entertaining. We get to spy on how good, quality people think and act and react behind closed doors. Not facile.

--OMGosh. The CYO! But this is EXACTLY the moralistic clout the Catholic Church had over sports, films and all kinds of stuff in the public arena/public life at the time. One of our elderly Sisters talks about letter-writing campaigns Catholic schools all across the country would have students do to protest stuff.
--Such unfair PRESSURE Robinson was under as a trailblazer….

--Good for EVERYONE to remember, and kids to learn, the dismal depths of racism in this country not long ago.

--It’s amazing how far filmmaking has come. “Brian’s Song” can’t even begin to hold a candle to “42.”

--Interesting article on why not as many Blacks in baseball today: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2139711,00.html
(A negative side-effect of the dissolving of the “Negro leagues” meant less community investing/viewing/enthusiasm. Also mentions that initiation into baseball tends to be a father-son thing, and the African-American community is sorely lacking in fathers that are present. Also, with the professionalization/travel in children’s sports, baseball has become expensive. There are also fewer safe outdoor spaces for kids to play/learn to play.)

--Chicago Tribune's Kass wants u to take your kids/teens to "42" (Jackie Robinson):

--Jackie Robinson's Widow, Rachel, Says "42" Gets It Right http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/moviesnow/la-et-mn-42-jackie-robinson-20130407,0,2311900.story


  1. Mark Isham did the music for this film, and he's a trumpeter. I would almost hope for a type of "Fanfare for the Common Man" coming from him. I do hope that he hired real musicians, and not a studio full of electronic keyboards for his soundtrack. Given budgets these days, I fear for the worst.

    Great review, Sister: you've given me yet another reason to go to the movies!

  2. OMGosh! A trumpeter! Makes sense I heard brass! You'll love this film.

  3. 42 is a polished biography. It's got beautiful music, bright cinematography and is populated by some nice performances. Chadwick Boseman notably underplays Jackie Robinson in a way that doesn't feel like he's grasping for the Academy Award. He's quite effective. As is Nicole Beharie who plays "the wife" but with an effervescence that made me want to see more of her in future films. Harrison Ford reminds us that he doesn't always just phone it in. As Branch Rickey, the General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers that signs Robinson to the team, he is truly engaging. 42 hits all the dramatic notes you'd except in a memoir such as this. It's not particularly deep or insightful, but it is inspiring.

    Robinson becomes more a symbol through which other people unleash their racial hatred against. I would've appreciated a little more detail in the script about the man himself. More vignettes involving his personality as well as his athletic accomplishments in the world of baseball would've been welcome. The lesson appears to be talent and money speak louder than hate. 42 is an admirable addition to baseball pictures that dutifully dramatize the subject in a way that is both pleasant and entertaining.