42? There's a movie called 42? What the heck is it about and why do they call it 42? If you are a casual movie goer that never watches ESPN (the movie was smartly advertised on ton there), you may be asking these questions. Allow me to answer. Yes there is a movie that just came out called 42 and no it is not explaining how the number 42 is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. In fact, it is a movie about baseball legend Jackie Robinson. 42 was his jersey number. It's a pretty big deal in the baseball world in that the number is retired throughout MLB in honor of him. In fact it's the only jersey number out of all four major US sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL) to be retired in this manor. Also there is one day in the season where all players will wear the number 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson. So yeah. It's a pretty important number and thus naming the movie 42 makes a lot of sense, despite it's ambiguity towards the casual fan. Personally I think it would've been better to add a subtitle like "42: The Legend of Jackie Robinson" or something like that, but they didn't. Oh well.
I myself am a pretty big sports fan, if you couldn't tell by that first paragraph, so I will definitely enjoy a good sports movie. However, it is my opinion that if you are going to make a sports movie that is based on true events (which is most of them except for the occasional Space Jam or Airbud type of movie), there are two major guidelines you should follow. First, make sure your sports story is unique and special. I don't need a sports movie for every team that won a championship, especially when I enjoyed it perfectly fine watching it happen in real life. Second, once you have your unique and special subject matter, stick to what actually happened historically as much as you can. Sports movies that are Hollywoodized too much are actually kinda lame once you hear what they did. I'll give you two examples of fairly popular movies that disappointed me a bit because they veered from these guidelines too much. First is Moneyball. In that movie they made Billy Beane look like a revolutionary character in baseball history by coming up with the idea of sabermetrics. Well, uh, it wasn't quite that way. Sabermetrics was a commonly known principle and was in fact taught to by Beane by his predecessor to the A's general manager position Sandy Alderson. Also Jonah Hill's character in the movie is fictionalized because the real person in history didn't like the way the movie was portraying him. Both of those facts made me feel that the story of Moneyball was nothing unique or special. My second movie example is Blindside. I did enjoy that movie, but the fact that the real Michael Oher, who the movie based on, didn't like the way they portrayed him in the movie puts a sour tone to it. They made him seem like this big, dumb, fat guy that had never heard of football before when in fact he was actually a bright kid in school who had played football for multiple years already when the family took him in. Too Hollywoodized.
With that long preface out of the way, I will start off my actual critique of the movie 42 by praising the fact that it follows these guidelines. First off, it is a very unique and special story. Jackie Robinson was the first black player to make it into the MLB since the 1880's. The timing of that was very important in that it was in the 1940's right before the huge civil rights movement, so not only was Jackie a big figure in baseball who had a stellar career, his courage and bravery in what he went through and accomplished was a very influential in American history with the Civil Rights movement. Every one of us, especially the blacks in America, owe him a huge thank you for what he did. The movie, despite the imperfections in it, did do a fantastic job of portraying this as the movie is centered mainly on that first year with the Dodgers, emphasizing all the ridicule he went through and how he overcame it. You will definitely leave this movie inspired by what he did. Secondly, 42 did a very good job of being true to the history of Jackie Robinson as some of the dialogue was even directly quoted from things that were really said.
Moving on a bit more, 42, despite scoring big in what I previously mentioned, did have a few flaws. Yes, it did pick a good subject matter and yes, it was historically accurate, but the execution in my mind was a bit poor. The music in the movie was fantastic and added a lot when it was used, but in my opinion it was underused as several scenes from the beginning and middle especially could've used more music to help set the tone of the movie better. The flow of the movie wasn't too good as it seemed to just jump from scene to scene at times. The script wasn't that great at times and some of the acting wasn't particularly done too well. Note the keyword "some" in that last sentence in terms of the acting because I do have to praise Harrison Ford and Chadwick Boseman for their performances as Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson. Jumping back to Moneyball, if Brad Pitt was able to earn an Oscar nomination for his role in the movie (and it was good - don't get me wrong), then Harrison Ford definitely deserves an Oscar nomination for his role as he was just so fantastic! Also I really liked how they used fairly unknown Chadwick Boseman to play Jackie himself. He did a great job as well and for the rest of his career he will be known as Jackie Robinson just like Harrison Ford is known as Han Solo or Indiana Jones.
Overall, I'd say this is an above average baseball movie. Is it the best sports movie of all time? Definitely not. In fact, ten years from now when you are listing off all your favorite sports movies, you will most likely not have this one among you list of favorites, but it is definitely worth giving a shot, especially if you are a fan of baseball because you will really appreciate what Jackie Robinson did for your sport and for America. I give 42 a 7 out of 10.