A likable hagiography as nuanced as a plaque at the Cooperstown Hall of Fame, Brian Helgeland's Jackie Robinson bio 42 finds a politic solution to the challenge Quentin Tarantino faced last year with Django Unchained: How to craft a crowd-pleasing multiplex period piece whose villain is, essentially, "all white people"? Helgeland solves this by—to flip a racist phrase of the day—showing us that Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey (a phlegmatic Harrison Ford) is one of the good ones, a white guy who transcended his upbringing to become a credit to his race. In the first half, the big moments of drift past like parade floats: well-crafted, incidentally arresting, but not strung together into a dramatic narrative. Things pick up the closer Robinson gets to Ebbets Field—here a video-game recreation that never quite fools the eye. In the majors, we have a story, one that grows more and more compelling right up until the climax's ridiculously protracted slow-mo baserunning. Some Dodgers revolt against Robinson's arrival, pitchers aim for his face, and a Philadelphia coach shouts "You don't belong here! Get that through your thick monkey skull!" A dusty intimacy distinguishes the baseball scenes, which are excellent, if abbreviated. Robinson's duels with pitchers are especially involving, both at the plate and on base, where he harrows the bastards like Bugs Bunny might Elmer Fudd. Chadwick Boseman (playing Robinson) mostly manages to play a flesh-and-blood man despite 42's attempts to present him as a statue just unveiled. Movingly, as Robinson suffers the white world's abuse, Boseman's eyes moisten, redden, and finally seem to scab over with anger and hurt.
Brian HelgelandHarrison Ford, Chadwick Boseman, Nicole Beharie, Christopher Meloni, Ryan Merriman, Lucas Black, Andre Holland, Alan Tudyk, Hamish Linklater, T.R. KnightBrian HelgelandWarner Bros. Pictures