Monday, April 22, 2013

My review of 42

You’re pitching a movie to a Hollywood studio executive.

YOU: You have this hero. Lots of people hate him. One guy in particular mercilessly razzes him…

EXEC: A bully! So it’s a bully movie? 

YOU: Yes! The ultimate bully movie.

EXEC: And eventually the hero has had enough and beats the living shit out of the bully! I love it!  Feel-good summer fare.

YOU: No, no. The big twist is that he doesn’t beat the bully up.

EXEC: Huh?  What? 

YOU: His triumph you see is that he controls himself, takes the high road, doesn’t let himself be brought down to the bully’s level.

EXEC: He doesn’t fight? Ever?

YOU: Nope.

EXEC: Well, then why the hell would anyone watch?

YOU: Because you admire his determination. You applaud his classiness. And you know the stand he takes will open the door for others.

EXEC: That’s not satisfying.

YOU: It is if I do it right.

EXEC: Well, maybe if you got a major star to play the hero.

YOU: No no, it should be a relative unknown.

EXEC:  What?!  Are you out of your fucking mind?  At least tell me the setting is something hot and new that the kids can relate to.

YOU: It’s a period piece about baseball.

EXEC: Baseball won’t sell one ticket overseas! Jesus, every time Ken Levine does a post on baseball in his blog his readers scatter. No one gives a shit about baseball? Especially baseball before the modern era -- 2005.   Does the team at least win the World Series?

YOU: No. They lose.

EXEC: Holy shit!  You're killing me here!  Are there any surprises? Anywhere?

YOU: No. Not really.

EXEC: Sorry, but no.  I'm passing before you can say Jackie Robinson.  

And yet, that’s exactly what does happen in 42, the story of the first African-American in baseball, Jackie Robinson. There’s no big payoff. The hero doesn’t blow up the villain's plantation. He doesn’t kill Hitler.

But what you’re left with is an elegant retelling of a story everybody knows. Jackie Robinson broke into baseball by conducting himself like a mensch. He faced bigotry among fans and fellow players and through sheer determination and talent rose above it all.

Writer/director Brian Helgeland mixes meticulous CGI recreations of old ballparks like Ebbets Field and Forbes Field with lovely performances – notably by Chadwick Boseman (who plays Jackie Robinson way better than Robinson did himself in the lame 1950 JACKIE ROBINSON STORY -- Jackie could steal bases, not scenes). Harrison Ford, who plays Branch Rickey as a blend of Wilford Brimley, Lewis Black, and Foghorn Leghorn, and John C. McGinley who did a fine impersonation of announcer Red Barber.

42 was quite stirring in spots and it did prove that with the right subject and creative team you could make a successful studio film that doesn’t adhere strictly to hokum Hollywood formulas.

I had only one problem with 42. And just to be safe: SPOILER ALERT. There was tremendous attention to detail, which I greatly appreciated. But then they commit a glaring technical error. I understand creative license and all but come on. The last big game of the season. The Dodgers are in Pittsburgh and need a win to clinch the pennant. Jackie Robinson hits a towering home run and as Red Barber describes it, it’s the game winner and the Dodgers are going on to the World Series. That’s a great movie moment… except – they’re in Pittsburgh. The home team gets another at bat. The Dodgers hadn’t won anything yet. But the CGI looked great!

42 is well worth seeing. It made me proud to be a lifelong Dodger fan. Proud to be a UCLA Bruin. And proud to be a citizen of Southern California where anyone could drink from the same water fountain in 1945.

26 comments:

Alan Sepinwall said...

Sounds like that scene in "The Natural" where Roy Hobbs hits a towering home run to beat Chicago at Chicago, and the homer is so impressive that Chicago apparently doesn't even bother coming to bat in the bottom of the 9th.

Michael Hill said...

I liked 42 a lot, but think it would have been better with period music instead of the over-the-top score that kept you thinking the gates of heaven were about to open.

benson said...

I learn so much from this blog. Today I learned the White Sox ushered in the modern era in 2005.

Oh, and the movie is very good, too.

The best way to start your day is this blog.

Brian said...

"Dear Jackie Robinson,

You may have been miscast in the movie about your life. Take it from me, you wouldn't be the first person to be told that a part you thought you were best to play wasn't the best choice.

Yours truly,
Carl Reiner"

Mike Barer said...

The Jackie Robinson story aired recently and I couldn't watch the whole thing, it was so bad.
42 is rememarkable in that you really wanted to root for Robinson just to see the disgust on the racists. It was a great movie experience. Also the first movie that I've seen in years where the audience aplauded at the end.

The Curmudgeon said...

"Today I learned the White Sox ushered in the modern era in 2005."

Gee, I've known this all along.

Haven't seen the movie yet -- and I never saw the 1950 movie either. But I read Robinson's autobiography, I Never Had It Made. Not your standard sports fare at all. Powerful, sad, inspirational.

Michael said...

Ken, I haven't seen it, but there's another problem. Brooklyn was still recreating road broadcasts in 1947. It was only in the middle of the next season that they started broadcasting live from the road, and, when they did, Red Barber worked with a marvelous broadcaster named Connie Desmond. The two of them together trained Young Scully.

Great Big Radio Guy said...

Oh, let's throw in another SEMI SPOILER ALERT. In one scene, Jackie switches on the radio in Wendell Smith's car to avoid listening to him. The music comes on immediately. In 1947, car radios had tubes and needed to warm up. That scene would have had about 20 seconds of awkward waiting if they stayed true to the times, though, so we'll give them a pass. I got confused by the scene Ken's SPOILER ALERT because the Dodgers were wearing their home uniforms in that scene and I wondered why they cut in a scene of Branch listening to the game on the Ebbets Field speakers. When the game winning call was made, it confused me even more. END OF SPOILER CRAP.

Still...an outstanding movie. Go. Go today.

VincentS said...

Two things, Ken. First, I personally liked THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY - except for the annoyance of the racist players on the other teams wearing blank uniforms; done for legal reasons, no doubt. Okay, Robinson was no Laurence Olivier (and I'm an actor myself), but whatever technical deficiencies his acting and the movie itself had, I was deeply moved by it on a visceral level aided, I think, by the fact that it was Robinson playing himself. Secondly, Jackie Robinson was NOT the first black in Major League ball - a mistaken assertion also made in the JACKIE ROBINSON STORY. Moses "Fleetwood" Walker and his brother played for the Providence club of the American Association - then a Major League - in the 1880s whereupon Cap Anson and other racists in baseball subsequently created the so-called "color barrier" which Jackie Robinson broke. Having said that, I can't wait to see 42. Thanks for the review.

Kevin B said...

I thought 42 was overwrought, schmaltzy, and often felt more like a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie rather than a major motion picture.

However, because it's such a moving story, I still enjoyed it for the most part. Oh, and I caught that world series winning call in the top of the 9th, too. Bugged me.

chalmers said...

There is another small, but poignant, entry in Hollywood’s portrayal of Jackie Robinson. In the mid ‘90s, there was a film, “Smoke,” about a Brooklyn cigar shop. After the filming was over, they used the sets and some of the actors a few more days to film a series of cigar-shop vignettes that appeared to be largely improvised. Several big names (Lily Tomlin, Michael J. Fox, Roseanne) appear in a sketch, and the collection was released under the title “Blue in the Face.”

The scenes are connected with impressions about Brooklyn from real-life residents. Of course, the Dodger departure is chronicled, and the one “plot” that runs through the movie culminates in a dream encounter with Jackie. It’s only a small part of the movie, but it touches on Robinson’s meaning to Brooklyn, the toll his struggle took on him, and how it’s easier to rail against greed from a distance than when the dollars and cents are yours.

Given the nature of the film, it’s no surprise that “Blue in the Face” is uneven as a whole. It still airs occasionally on the indie-film channels, but the best way to watch it might be in a medium where you can skip through the vignettes you don’t enjoy.

Scott Lange said...

Doesn't "Red Barber" explain the "top of the ninth" issue? He says something like "barring an incredible comeback, the Dodgers are going to win the pennant."

Although, if it was supposed to be this game, it was really a solo shot in the 4th inning. Regardless, these are all small issues in the grand scheme of things.

Ted said...

The "top of the ninth" ending is not a problem for me. Every baseball scene in this movie selects just one moment from the game, and the climactic scene is no different. Excellent, inspiring film!

Fred C said...

My kids were raised around baseball. And they all knew Jackie was the man that broke the color barrier. But I was surprised that all 3 saw the 42 movie separate, and they all thought it was AWESOME! Now I thought it was very good,but not awesome. I think the thing that got to them, was all the stuff that Jackie went thru. I guess it's one thing to tell a generation this what this man did and another to "see" what this man did..

jgard7591 said...

I had majour problems with it but then revisionist history always bugs me. If youre going to do a bio pic get the facts straight. Someone we both know Ken said so many events portrayed were inaccurate. Some were trivial like right handed batters hitting left and vice versa, same with pitchers but bigger things were butchered. Ben Chapman lever left the dugout to go on the field to shout the N word. He was the Phils manager who tossed the black cat on the field. A far more effective and graphic event than what they concocted. The Reese arm around Robinson's shoulder according to the film happened in Brooklyn, theyre wearing white home uniforms. Rather that happened in Cincinnati, across the river from Pee Wee's Kentucky home. Cincinnati was and still is a Southern type town making the actual event so much more significant. Ken when did Robinson develop a street tough New York sounding accent? Never was the term loosely based so appropriate.
Jay Z the racist who brought back the N word on the sound track? If Mr. Robinson ever saw what they did to his story, he would start vomiting and never stop.

SB said...

Jgard, you're wrong. Just saw the movie last night, and the scene in the film where Pee Wee puts his arm around Jackie occurs in Cincinnati with the Dodgers in away uniforms. The film got it correct.

Sue said...

Thank you SB, I was thinking did jgard actually see the movie. When Pee Wee put his arm around Jackie he remarked that some family members were in the crowd, because they were in Cincinnati which was close to home. Before people comment they really should pay better attention to the movie. I thought it was a beautifully told story that young kids especially would get something out of. Also the use of the N word in context with the times would give them a better understanding of the breath of the hate toward blacks, Jews, Italians,etc.,which was also touched on. Love your review Ken! Thanks

Johnny Walker said...

I can't wait to see this! Oh, wait a minute. I live in the UK. Argh!

Anonymous said...

Whoever said that Chapman never issued a string of racial epithets and only threw a black cat on the field should do their research. He did scream the N word at Jackie, and much more and, worse, was joined by several of his team members. He was not on the field; he was standing outside his dugout, exactly as portrayed in the movie. He was a bad, bad man.

chuckcd said...

I love your baseball posts!
Best sport in the world.

kent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pat Reeder said...

I know nothing about baseball, but my blogger friend Uncle Scoopy at www.othercrap.com is a major baseball fanatic, and he added this, which you might find interesting:

The movie is generally accurate and is worth a watch, especially if you love baseball and/or American history, but I have to nitpick one element.

At one point ol' Red Barber is up in the broadcast booth near the end of the 1947 season and announces that Robinson had 27 stolen bases with NO "caught stealing."

This was a major error on the part of the filmmakers and their researchers. True, the baseball record books show no caught stealing for Robinson in 1947, but they show no "caught stealing" for ANYONE in the National League in 1947!

Is this because the NL catchers of that era really sucked?

No. It is because "caught stealing" was not an official NL statistic until 1951.

However, Retrosheet has been working on assembling various stats that were not kept officially in earlier times, and they have concluded that Jackie Robinson actually led the league in "caught stealing" in 1947 (actually tied with his teammate Pete Reiser). He stole 29 bases and was caught 11 times, which is a decent ratio, but not a distinguished one. The following year his steals dropped to 22 and his caught stealing increased to 14, a rather poor ratio by today's standards, but good for that era. The 29 stolen bases in 1947 did lead the league by a mile, and represented a revolutionary achievement during an era when the stolen base was almost a forgotten element of the game. The second place guy in the NL (Reiser again) had only 14!

MikeN said...

Jackie Robinson wasn't the first black man in baseball, he was at best the third. The early Players Union's got the owners to agree to their demand to keep out the competition. If Branch Rickey had waited too long, then after the new collective bargaining agreements, they might have been kept out at the insistence of the players unions again.

vibrato said...

I loved 42 . I just wish they would have shown Jackie playing in Montreal. They loved him there but I guess that would have killed the arc.

Anonymous said...

Check out the new release from SHOUTfactory. Jackie Robinson:My Story starring Stephen Hill. A great way to tell Jackie's story ^

Rob Tabor said...

I just saw the film today and can confirm what a few commenters suspected, Red Barber does say,"Barring a miracle comeback, the Dodgers are going to the World Series." So in that sense, they got the final scene right, but they took some creative license having it happen at the end of the game rather than the 4th inning, and I believe the depicted game only clinched a tie of the pennant. The Dodgers won the next day to actually win the pennant.