A Review of 42 (Nice Job, Eddie Stanky)

 

Jackie makes a spectacular diving catch at 2nd during a 1946 Spring Training scrimmage as a Montréal Royal.

Branch Rickey (in awe): That’s almost SUPERHUMAN.

Unfortunately, the rare April weather pattern that brought itself through Minneapolis this weekend subtracted the amount of baseball we would have (with an added amount now sometime in August.) Fortunately, though, the weekend brought an additional baseball entity as well, a film that was strong enough for me to refer to it as an additional baseball entity of my weekend. 42 was a very pleasant movie-going experience, and did plenty of justice to a story that not only had to be told, but had to be told well.

Let me first say that I very much liked the film, and would go as far to call it a classic, both in American Cinema and the baseball genre. I have particulars I will go over that are just part of my über critical filmmaking side, a side of which I cannot hide. Those parts I will critique did not, for me, take anything away from the heart of the film.

Also, I went into it attempting to avoid any reviews that I would possibly come across (which turned out to be a hard thing to do between my dad and a friend.) You see (and bear with me while I self-promote for a moment) for 9 years now I have had an idea for a cinematic television series about Brooklyn, the Dodgers, and how both were affected by the rapid transition into Modern America. At this point, it is in the form of a pitch book and a 56-page sample pilot, and I am currently recruiting writers who can help me develop the story (honestly, if anybody out there wants to help with this endeavor, please contact me at [email protected], and I’ll explain more of what I have in mind. 42 is certainly a big motivator for me in furthering the Dodger project along.)

So, I knew I needed to have as clear of a head as possible when it came to judging the movie, for I had thought out certain sequences that were most likely to be in it numerous times.

As I walked over to the E-Walk Theatre on 42nd Street, I started reflecting on what Jackie Robinson means to America when I passed a union building on 43rd that has a poster on the side proclaiming the union’s support for Barack Obama. Regardless of your politics, Barack Obama is a part of Jackie Robinson’s legacy, and it was a poignant symbol to see as I walked over on Saturday morning for an 11:15 show.

Forget about the fact they try and cram every possible preview they can into the time allotted beforehand. By this point, after attempting to throw every possible idea of what the movie could be like out of my skull, I was more than ready for the viewing. And here were preview after preview, making it feel like the viewing was getting farther and farther away while I kept thinking about the journey, as a society, to get to this moment.

Then, the Iron Man 3 trailer came up, and quickly across the screen at some point flashed Don Cheadle in a comparable costume to Iron Man’s. I must admit, I have yet to see any of the 2 movies prior, so Don Cheadle and his role in the Iron Man franchise is unknown to me. But it got me thinking about the…”standards” pop culture and the creators of it set for the masses; how there has never really been a black superhero. Yeah, you had Shaq in Steel (which looked awful) and that Robert Townsend one of which I can’t remember the name (though I remember loving the movie.) But look at that. I can’t even remember a movie I enjoyed about a black superhero and just like this I can spout off Superman, Batman, Spiderman and Iron Man. All white dudes.

It basically took real-life, and baseball, for Hollywood to have it’s black superhero.

And later in my movie-going experience, Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey utters those words about Jackie being Superhuman.

…to which the Montréal manager responds:

Now, don’t get carried away, Mr. Rickey. He’s still just a (n-word) out there.”

So, let me begin with my über critique.

To no fault of these specific filmmakers and film, there has been this emanating way of doing things when it comes to Hollywood attempting to tap into the emotions of the audience.

In regards to this film, let me use an early scene in the movie as an example.

With two men in front of his desk, Branch sits behind it and says, “I’m going to bring a Negro man to the Major Leagues.”

Cue up a generic violin overture as the characters in front of him react to the news.

It’s as if Hollywood doesn’t trust the audience to get the appropriate emotional response to something so heavy. They don’t seem to trust that the directing, the acting, and the script itself are doing a fine job making sure the moment lands with the masses.

And all those elements were certainly in tip-top shape.

(Let me also say this is not a general reflection of my opinion on the score and the song choices.)

The film takes place in ’46 and ’47, chronicling Branch’s search for the right man to break the color barrier, Jackie with the AAA Montréal Royals, and his 1st year in the Majors, which is its primary focus (the film is not about Brooklyn. It is about Branch, Jackie, his struggles and the altering of certain humans’ thought processes.)

Besides that general pet peeve I have with a certain element of the Hollywood condition, the script and directing, both done by Brian Helgeland, are very strong, with every actor on point in delivering the heart and soul of the film to the audience. It has the right dose of comedy and drama (and romance), keeping you invested in the characters and the story at every turn. Though it is, of course, dramatized (and sometimes at the expense of the historical accuracy of the box score, which I’m fine letting slide…), it isn’t done at the expense of the realistic feeling. Thumbs up for the cinematography, which is some of the best shot baseball sequences I’ve ever seen. And between Red Barber, the art direction and the costumes, 42 is very atmospheric, so by the time Eddie Stanky walks over to Phillies manager Ben Chapman, who has been yelling incendiary remarks towards Jackie from the 3rd base visitor’s dugout of Ebbets Field, you’re right there in foul territory with him ready to punch the sonofabitch.

Great job recreating Ebbets Field and other old parks, integrating the green screen environments beautifully with the live action (an element of the film I was very interested in seeing.)

And a Mets character shows up…*

So, for somebody who hoped for the best and expected the worst (also feeling like I had a stake in it being good) I am thrilled to have seen the production presented to me. The subject matter and the successful telling of it makes me feel it is one of the most important films in the history of American Cinema, already in my eyes placed with some of the best baseball movies of all time.

 

Today, April 15, 2013, baseball celebrates the 66th anniversary of the day a black man donned a Major League uniform for the first time in a long time (a date that warrants the moving of Tax Day to declare April 15 a national holiday.) With many ceremonies and every player in the league wearing the only number retired throughout baseball, we reflect on how the strength, character and resolve of the men involved impacted our society and our game, and remind ourselves that we still have a long, long way to go.

At the heart and soul of the film is the fact that the actions of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson completely altered a large amount of people’s thought processes regarding how they viewed human beings that were not exactly like them, whether because of skin, or culture, or religion, or whatever. The motivations for certain people to change their mind might not have been based on “the right thing to do” at the beginning, but the process began, and changed many people for the better over the long-run.

And 22 years after Jackie Robinson first stepped onto the Flatbush field, the actions of April 15, 1947, allowed for many people to see a team winning the 1969 World Series…

…as opposed to seeing black men and white men playing baseball together.

Celebrate the Holiday.

And Let’s. Go. Mets.

 *The Mets character that shows up in 42 is NOT Casey Stengel….

 

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Tags: 42 (film) Brooklyn Dodgers Film Review Jackie Robinson Los Angeles Dodgers New York Mets

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