It may not rewrite the rule book, but the earnest biopic “42” does right by groundbreaking baseball player Jackie Robinson.
Taking its name from Robinson's number, which has been retired by every Major League Baseball team, the inspirational sports drama carefully and colorfully documents Robinson's historic breaking of the sport's color line when he made his Dodgers debut on April 15, 1947, blazing a trail for other black players.
Writer-director Brian Helgeland, whose credits include “A Knight's Tale,” “Payback” and the Oscar-winning screenplay for “L.A. Confidential,” follows the conventions of one of my favorite cinematic subgenres straight down the line, but the fact-based story is so uplifting and cheer-worthy, it works even if it doesn't break any new ground in the storytelling arena.
Helgeland and his lead actor, Chadwick Boseman rightly portray Robinson as a talented, likable young man rather than lionizing him as an icon.
The filmmaker chronicles Robinson's historic rookie season through the eyes of his chronicler, now-legendary black sports journalist Wendell Smith (Andre Holland), who sets the segregated post-World War II scene.
To the shock of his staff, canny Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford, who takes a go-for-broke attitude, adopting a whole new look, voice and bearing) decides that the time is right for racial integration in baseball and begins the hunt for a black player to break the color line. He is looking for a youngster with a bright future, loads of talent, an affable but not-too-nice demeanor and, most importantly, the toughness to take the coming abuse without wilting or striking back.
And he finds all that, although with a bit of a hotheaded attitude, in Robinson, who also has a faithful young wife, Rachel (Nicole Beharie), willing to back his play.