On April 15, 2013 – 66 years to the day after Jackie Robinson had his first game in the major leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers – I saw 42 (2013).
My reaction to seeing it was that it was a very inspiring story told in an only moderately inspiring film. And it made me wonder whether some of the really glowing reviews this film has been getting has to do more with the story itself rather than how it was presented.
This isn’t to say that it was a bad film; it certainly wasn’t. And Harrison Ford gave a first-rate performance as Branch Rickey, the man who brought Robinson on board.
I just remember how inspiring a baseball film such as Field of Dreams (1989) was – and it left me a little disappointed in this film. (Especially when one could argue that this film had the more compelling story to tell.)
One thing that struck me was that there were few shades of gray here. The people who were against Robinson seemed – to a person – to be simple bigots, while those who supported him were portrayed as being, for want of a better word, enlightened.
My hunch is that it didn’t quite work out that way in real life.
Most of us have good and bad in our makeup; we’re not one-dimensional. Yet many of the characters in 42 struck me as being just that. I think it might have been more compelling to see some of their back-stories and motivations. Also, were any of them conflicted? Did anyone who was opposed to Robinson feel pangs of guilt? Moreover, did any of his supporters have doubts? And what was Robinson himself thinking?
On all of these questions the film keeps its cards held close.
I think if the filmmakers had decided to really get inside of its characters they could have turned a good film into a great one.
Sadly, they didn’t…