42

Movie Review: “42”

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We all know the story, I hope: baseball, due to an odious “gentleman’s agreement,” kept itself segregated and lily white for 50-60 years. Branch Rickey, as general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, set out in the mid 1940s to find just “the right man” — meaning a black man — to bring to the major leagues, thereby breaking that color barrier. Jackie Robinson was the right man. He made his major league debut in 1947, standing up to and utterly transcending the petty and hateful moods of the day, making the racists look like the retrograde buffoons they were, kicking off a Hall of Fame major league career and changing baseball — and America — forever.

But the fact that we all know that story creates one small problem: how in the heck do you make a movie out of it that delivers anything fresh, new or even the least bit suspenseful? With a fantastic hero and a fantastic story — which has the added benefit of being 100% true — at their disposal, this was the challenge for the makers of “42.”  They did a good job with it. Not a great job. But a good job. One that’s worth the price of admission but that isn’t quite the Oscar-bait or piece of importance you get the sense they think they made.

The central problem with the film is a problem you see with almost all biopics: characters who appear to be overly-aware that they’re in a biopic. To be sure, Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson and others knew for a fact that what they were doing was historically significant. But I’m struggling to imagine how the real Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey could ever have carried on a couple year’s worth of conversations in which every other phrase was a platitude or a grand declaration underscoring just how significant everything was. Yes, a filmaker needs a shorthand way to convey years’ worth of information and drama in a 115-minute film, but Harrison Ford’s Rickey and Chadwick Boseman’s Robinson often seem more like robots from a living history museum than real people.

source:  Which isn’t to say that their performances aren’t good. In fact, in many ways they’re quite wonderful. Chadwick Boseman impresses as Robinson, especially in the baseball scenes. Actors frequently screw up baseball movies due to their inability to, you know, play baseball (I’m looking at you Tim Robbins, Tony Danza and many, many others), but Boseman captures Robinson’s essence as a ballplayer. Most impressively his running style and the way in which he terrorized pitchers trying to hold him on. While the thinner-bodied Boseman isn’t exactly a close physical match for Robinson, not once while watching him do you not believe he is, in fact, Jackie Robinson. That’s something that an awful lot of biopics screw up (I’m looking at you Leo DiCaprio in “The Aviator” and Jack Nicholson in “Hoffa”).

Harrison Ford is another matter. Much has been made about how he has hammed it up as Rickey. And yes, it is a bit jarring at first to see a longtime leading man like Ford putting on such a mannered, almost gimmicky performance. But over the course of the film Ford’s Rickey grew on me. It’s weird. You never forget that you’re watching Harrison Ford playing someone who is, more or less, Branch Rickey. But you can tell Ford had a lot of fun doing it and that sense of fun helps lighten things up somewhat in a film with many difficult and often uncomfortable scenes. And, strangely enough, knowing that it’s Harrison Ford there under those bushy eyebrows — Han Solo! Indiana Jones! Jack Ryan! The President of the United States! — adds some gravitas to a character which demands some gravitas.

With a sometimes ponderous script on one side and some winning performances on the other, what puts this movie over as a good one? The decision to focus most of the film’s attention on the baseball. After a couple of opening scenes set in offices, most of the rest of what’s important in “42” happens on the diamond, and those scenes look and feel great. Thanks to some nifty CGI Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds, Forbes Field and Crosley Field look so real you’d think you’ve stepped into a time machine. The game play feels real too. Maybe a bit minor league (I know Robinson was fast, but man, those catchers couldn’t have thrown THAT poorly back then) but what is often a weakness in baseball movies — the actual baseball — is a strength here.

Other strengths: winning supporting performances from Alan Tudyk as Phillies manager Ben Chapman, John C. McGinley as Red Barber and Christopher Meloni as Leo Durocher. Tudyk is absolutely (and appropriately) horrifying as the racist Chapman. McGinley delivers Barber’s signature catch phrases (“in the catbird seat” and “tighter than a new pair of shoes on a rainy day”) as if they weren’t signature catch phrases, putting you in mind of a radio listener in 1947. Meloni’s Durocher takes a few more liberties — I sincerely doubt the real Durocher casually dropped things like “nice guys finish last” at the end of random phone calls — but he conveys Durocher’s larger-than-life persona in a few key scenes.

Ultimately, “42” is a good baseball movie which delivers on the baseball but not so much on the movie. History tells us what happened, so it can only do so much to be even a little bit suspenseful or surprising. And the format almost requires conversations to be exercises in exposition rather than true, character-driven dialogue. For this reason it doesn’t enter the baseball movie pantheon and, at times, can be a bit of a slog.  But it’s definitely worth your time and your money.

The Blue Jays and the Toronto press are fueding with each other

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 3:  Manager John Gibbons #5 of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on from the dugout during the first inning of a game against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 3, 2016 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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The Blue Jays are poised to make the playoffs for the second year in a row and are playing a critical series with the Orioles, the outcome of which will likely determine who gets to play at home for that one-and-done game next week. Big stakes! Must keep focused!

Or, alternatively, maybe it’s time to have a silly, juvenile feud with the press. Here’s Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun, asking why the Jays are doing stuff like this while fighting for the playoffs:

Why, for example, would the leaders on the team allow someone to put up on a wall photos of two Toronto sports writers with an ‘X’ scratched on their face and the a message written on top reading, ‘Do not grant them interviews’ (or words to that effect)? . . . Things like: Someone cranking up the music just when the media arrives to conduct pre-game interviews.

Not that the Jays have been treated wonderfully by the press themselves:

There was an incident the other night when a couple of journalists tried to corral struggling closer Roberto Osuna for an interview, but he kept blowing them off. Finally, one reporter followed him right into a private part of the clubhouse and told him off.

That’s . . . not what you’re supposed to do.

Still, there is zero point to get into silly feuds with the media. If they overstep their bounds, there are a TON of Jays officials and, I suspect, newspaper editors, who will quickly and eagerly discipline the reporter. You don’t have to make wanted posters and act like children. Partially because it’s just a bad look. But also, because it leads to news stories about it like the one in the Toronto Sun.

And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 29: Rain falls during a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds at Busch Stadium on September 29, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights.

Oh, and here is my take on the idiotic ending to the Reds-Cardinals game which could potentially cost the Giants a playoff berth.

Nationals 5, Diamondbacks 3: Wilmer Difo hit his first major league homer. Pedro Severino hit his second. No National succumbed to season-ending injuries. So a rare success for Washington in these final days of the regular season.

Yankees 5, Red Sox 1: CC Sabathia allowed one run and four hits while pitching into the eighth inning. It was only his ninth win of the year — his first win in a month — but he lowered his ERA to 3.91. He strike out fewer guys than he used to, walks more and allows more hits. But the fact that he made 30 starts this year and made at least a modest return to form suggests that, maybe, Sabathia still has something in the tank. Not as an ace, of course, but at least as a guy who can give you some respectable innings at the back of a rotation. In other news, the Yankees were eliminated in the middle of this game by virtue of the Orioles beating the Blue Jays. Inevitable, but the mere fact that they staved off elimination until game 159 is pretty impressive given all that has happened this year.

Cubs 1, Pirates 1: You don’t see many ties in baseball. Unless it’s spring training. Or, like, 1912 or something and it gets dark. Thank Mother Nature for the game being called at 1-1. Thank this game having no playoff implications whatsoever for it not being resumed at a later date. It was the first tie in a regular season game since 2005.

Orioles 4, Blue Jays 0: Ubaldo Jimenez and two relievers combined on a three-hit shutout. Jimenez allowed one of those hits in his six and two-thirds innings. The O’s and Jays are tied in the Wild Card standings with Detroit (1.5 back) and Seattle (2 back) the only ones left who can break up their postseason party.

Braves 5, Phillies 2Freddie Freeman‘s 30-game hitting streak ended but the Braves won for the 10th time in 11 games. The Tigers play Atlanta in the season’s final series. A month or two ago that looked like a nice way to end things. Right now, however, there’s a decent chance that the Braves help end the Tigers season. If that comes to pass, please say a prayer for those Braves fans you know who are engaged to grumpy Tigers fans come Sunday. Not, um, that I know any of those.

Twins 7, Royals 6:

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Same.

Cardinals 4, Reds 3: Not sure what else there is to say at this point that I didn’t say here. I dunno, Yadier Molina and Jedd Gyorko hit solo homers. Wheeeeeee.

Rays 5, White Sox 3: Congratulations to Chris Archer for avoiding his 20th loss of the season. Pitcher wins and losses mean little about the skill or prowess of a pitcher, but it’s better not to be the answer to a trivia question like that.

Dodgers 9, Padres 4Joc Pederson doubled twice and drove in three as the Dodgers avoided a sweep. The Dodgers are two games behind the Nationals with three to play in the race for home-field advantage in their division series matchup. Between that and possibly keeping the Giants out of the Wild Card game, they have a lot to play for this weekend in San Francisco.

Mariners 3, Athletics 2: Mike Zunino hit a go-ahead home run in the seventh inning to keep the Mariners alive for at least one more day.

Giants 7, Rockies 2: Johnny Cueto started out a bit shaky, giving up two in the top of the first, but he settled down and didn’t allow anything else in his remaining six innings. It was close until the sixth when the San Francisco pulled ahead, thanks in part to an uncharacteristic defensive blunder by Nolan Arenado. The Giants control their own destiny in the Wild Card, standing a game ahead of St. Louis with three to play.

Indians vs. Tigers: POSTPONED: The leaves of brown came tumbling down

Remember in September in the rain
The sun went out just like a dying amber
That September in the rain

To every word of love i heard you whisper
The raindrops seemed to play our sweet refrain
Though spring is here to me it’s still September
That September in the rain