Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Review: 42

"Gentleman. . . I have a plan."
                                   --Branch Rickey

Sports is not my strong suit, so I unfortunately cannot wager how well the film worked, in the context of the times, the flow of the game's content in relation to era and so on and so forth. But, I will also argue in a moment how that actually strengthens my view of the film, side-stepping a critic's point-of-view as a Baseball fan and clouding their judgement of the film. 

From what I understand, as usual, there are elements and story points in this that quite simply did not happen, and some, skewed and manipulated to suit the director's vision. So, as a man of film, and not a Baseball enthusiast, did I notice anything I found unsound, or clunky enough to throw the film off as the credits began to roll?

No. It's a very sound, very satisfying, very tightly rolled film about Baseball, the men who played it, the ones in charge, and the public embracing the first black player to rise from the ranks of negro-league player, to minor league player, to major league rookie of the year.

The story takes us from 1945 to the end of the Dodger's '47 season as Branch Rickey (played gloriously by Ford) and Jackie Robinson (embodied just swell by Boseman) work together to bring segregation to an end in Baseball. 

What I liked most about the film is that it focused on the politics of the game, and doesn't hammer home the insulting glory-story of race this and race that and white vs. black this and Disney-themes that. You can argue there is certainly plenty of that to go around. And there is. And I admit that not as a hypocrite, but as film-goer who watched as an seemingly organic set of events unfolded before him. Nothing seemed contrived or drippy or down-right fake (note what I wrote in two paragraphs above this one). 

Rickey takes Robinson step by step from the Negro leagues, the Minor leagues with the Montreal Royals, then eventually elevating him to the Brooklyn Dodgers as a second baseman. And he does this with a mix of a calculating businessman and owner and man with a devil-may-care, "It's bleu cheese with wings or go fuck your mother." attitude. Rickey forces the press, public and other players and teams alike to deal with his decisions. He handles all the pressure well. And in one speech about God and Baseball, Ford's Branch Rickey shows a fellow owner how capable he is in the likes of being able to outsmart any situation he finds himself in. 

Boseman gives us the quite reserve of a man tested, day after day, minute to minute. And to his credit, he gives us a ball player that needs to show strength and "guts" supplying himself newly replenished will "not to fight back." And I bought him. I bought the attitude, the skills on the field, the haircut, the dialogue. All of it. Chadwick Boseman has all the talent necessary to bring this character to life, and not to make him into a black hero that repeats one liners for trailers and Disney-esque selling-point quotes. Boseman just makes him a man, a man that turns the tides and creates greatness out of thin air using only himself as the tool. And speaking of character building? Let's talk about Harrison Ford's transformation from Leading Hero to quirky, calm old dragon with a kind heart but a tough tongue.

I went this, a fan of Harrison Ford, impressed and excited by his choice to forego the usual fair he's in. And how did he do this?  He took a step into his actual age bracket. Shedding his leading man skin and embracing a pleasant/curmudgeon type, with a low, growly sort of voice coming from a mouth with a cigar stuffed into it half the time. His world weary, but hopeful eyes staring through a pair a glasses under his freshly combed hair. 

Ford's gut can be seen busting through his shirts, and the bow-tie he sports around his shirt collar always present. His lips curl in slightly, like an old man's do, and they shake sometimes before he talks as he wiggles slightly in the middle of yelling something at someone from time to time. Rickey forever holds a cigar in his hand, or chomps down on one as he dolls out his craggy-voiced dialogue. Ford hobbles as Rickey in one scene after another in only a way I can see that he's thoroughly enjoying the role. He takes the chance to remind people that he holds acting-reserves and can call upon them as he so chooses. Swinging for the fences here as Branch Rickey, he deserves nothing less than glorious Oscar press next January/February. 

We can see Branch Rickey is not a cool-guy, he's a Baseball club owner and businessman. From some deep darker part of his past and experiences, Rickey feels it is his duty and destiny to take Robinson under his wings, protect him dearly and guide him heroically to the man he became. This culminates to a heart-warming/breaking degree in particular with a scene in a Hallway after what I can only describe as maybe the most racist and emotionally testing scene of white vs. black I've scene in recent times. And no, I'm not discounting Django Unchained either. 

So, maybe I'll take it back, and say that at the end of the day, Ford's Hero persona was not shed after all. 

Well done Mr. Ford. I was just as pleased as the first trailer got me excited and told me I would be. 

Helgeland has a considerable resume under his belt to date, so it only makes sense that this Baseball flick is added to his already impressive background in Hollywood. This movie didn't have an agenda, or a message to purport deeply on the wings of angelic fair. No, it just told a story about good old fashioned Baseball, and how it got it's first black player. 

It's the relationship between Rickey and Robinson that powers the film forward, and 42's trials and tribulations along the way, fighting players, press and coaches and owners as he dares to show them all the dollars, ball fields are both green, who gives a shit about skin when I can play this good? 

People eventually got that message, from I can see today. 

Munki out. 

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