The new Jackie Robinson biopic 42 could have just as easily been titled Race-ball. We’ve seen it before: a hyper-inspirational movie about overcoming racial equality (through sports, no less) that makes the audience feel really good about not being racist, but doesn’t actually tackle anything new or show racism for the monster it is. Honestly, I could end the review there, but I’m going to go more in-depth because there are actually some really good things in this movie, despite the fact that it follows a list of clichés.
I do, however, feel the need to mention a few specific things that I feel made this movie worth watching and decent (because overall, it is in fact a decent movie). The first, and most obvious, is Chadwick Boseman’s depiction of Jackie Robinson. I’m not that familiar with the real Robinson, but I will say that even I could tell how powerful Boseman’s feelings were about this part. He never once played the victim card, a pitfall of many racially focused films, but rather looked the hatred in the eye and faced it head-on, not with blind courage, but with a real strength that I admired throughout the entire film.
The third thing that impressed me about this movie was Alan Tudyk’s portrayal of Ben Chapman. I simply cannot stop thinking about it. He plays the manager of the Phillies, and is an absolutely unforgiving manifestation of racism. I’m pretty sure 95% of the uses of the “n-word” came from this man. Being familiar with his other work (A Knights Tale, Wreck-It Ralph, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Dodgeball, Firefly), I was shocked to see him play a despicable racist so unapologetically, but boy was it effective. The audience is forced to hate him as his two-dimensionality prevents him from actually seeming human, but he gets his dues in a way that had me rolling with laughter. I’d go so far as to say this movie is worth watching for his performance alone.
And yes, Harrison Ford does a great job (even though he had some of the cheesiest and unrealistic monologues in the entire film).
Overall, I would recommend 42 to fans of sports movies and films that safely tackle racial inequality without committing to the real harshness of racism. As for me, I’ll be watching (the historically inaccurate but realistically harsh) Django Unchained again.