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David Poland

By David Poland

iReview Mini: 42

Take The Natural and remove the score and the mythology.

This is a movie-of-the-week in which some very good actors step forward (not so fast, Harrison) and occasionally overcome what is (perhaps) the most shockingly banal script of Brian Helgeland wonderful career. I mean, Assassins and The Postman are remarkably bad. Disasters. And I never even tried to watch Green Zone. But there is a certain charm to “really bad.” For me, 42 commits a greater sin. It’s agonizingly on the nose.

The film is not painful. If you want a slow, plodding, painfully obvious reminder of what you, as a non-racist, have known for decades with the score soaring as though Moses was parting the Red Sea every time there’s a moist, powerfully long close-up, this is the movie for you.

What Helgeland failed at utterly was to find anything other than a History Channel-style telling of the tale. It’s as though he never met a metaphor or thematic idea or any complexity that he felt he needed to bring to an old, well-trod tale/genre.

Lucas Black got a tear out of me. I didn’t feel good about it. But his humanity, as Pee Wee Reese, was lovely. Loved seeing Max Gail. Chris Meloni and Alan Tudyk were great fun. Hamish Linklater is always terrific, though I have never seen a ballplayer built quite like him. There were a whole lot of indistinguishable, thick, white boys… who were fine… and interchangeable. And the lead, Chadwick Boseman, did the job. So did his movie wife, Nicole Beharie.

But still… I felt like I was watching a Very Special Episode of Afterschool Special in 1975. What 42 doesn’t have is any of the odd magic that Disney dragged out of obvious, but better than expected sports dramas like The Rookie, and Remember the Titans. Not within a country mile of The Blind Side or We Are Marshall.

Classic 42 moment. Branch Rickey (who actually looked like a think John Goodman) is listening to an important road game in an empty Ebbets Field. The size of the space… all that emptiness… a man who had achieved what others told him was impossible. This should have been right up there with Ian Holm as Sam Mussabini alone on that room in Chariots of Fire. Wasn’t. Game over.

No one’s going to ask for their money back. But no one is going to be upset that they missed the theatrical release when they see it on HBO next February.

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16 Responses to “iReview Mini: 42”

  1. anghus says:

    Im trying to figure out if youre putting “We Are Marshall” in the ‘good’ column or describing it as mediocre.

    I went to Marshall and i think We Are Marshall is kind of painful at times. McCoughnahey is just atrocious.

    On 42: Good review. Though this movie feels so late. Soooooo late. How many people currently going to movies can remember this era of sports history? I’m middle aged and cant remember a time when black athletes werent a major factor in almost every sport… except Golf or Hockey. And since then Golf has been checked off that list. The challenge, to me, would be making a movie on this subject and finding any way to do it other than straight up historical retelling. Because the themes of racism in sports has been so covered. What’s your in for the audience? What makes this story so special. It was the fact that he was the first. But being the first rarely makes you the most interesting.

    And the last two generations of filmmakers have seen racism in sports presented in great movies like Remember the Titans and even average fare like Glory Road. What separates Robinson from the bunch other than being the first? And the trailers show scenes of struggle and triumph, but none of it feels as relevant as something like Remember the Titans. This feels like a story better suited for an HBO Sports Documentary.

    I could watch HBO Sports Docs or ESPN 30 for 30 all damn day.

  2. Bluebird says:

    Yes it’s a “standard” biopic, but the fact that Lucas Black’s Pee Wee Reese is the only character that moved you is telling. All you can say about Boseman is that he “did the job”?? With no mention of his transcendent work in the scene with Alan Tudyk’s racist Ben Chapman? Really?!? Were you actually watching the movie or playing on your smartphone during the whole thing?

  3. Joe says:

    No where else to post this…I am unable to reach the main MCN site on 2 different computers? Is this just me? I made it to the hot blog via a google search and not my normal bookmark.

  4. Greg says:

    Im a sucker for a good sports-inspirational movie. 42 had me crying from the opening scenes and I was a weeping mess by the end. They dont come around as much as I would like. It is a ‘standard biopic’ but done well. Harrison Ford was excellent. Im pretty sure they didnt touch on 1/100 of the racism he endured.

    I love Glory Road, Gridiron Gang, Invincible, The Express, We Are Marshall and the best of them all, Miracle.

    It was great to see Lucas Black (he’s dreamy!) and Hamish Linklater on the big screen…although I dont think you ever saw Hamish throw or catch as you did the other actors. Even his walk doesnt say ‘athlete’.

  5. etguild2 says:

    Good review…only a couple films a year get an A+ CinemaScore, and it’s sad that this will be one of them. At least Scary Movie 5 is bombing!

  6. chris says:

    Anghus — pretty sure he’s putting “Marshall” in the good category. And, agreed. Atrocious. (And can’t hold a candle to “Rookie,” which I think is being put in the “obvious”/bad category.)

  7. nick clement says:

    you never tried watching Green Zone? really? why? you missed a phenomenal piece of work.

  8. Lex says:

    Loved it.

    I don’t begrudge Poland or Anghus or whoever their opinion on the movie, but this is an ARGO/THE HELP/BLIND SIDE word-of-mouth crowd-pleaser juggernaut. And possible BP candidate.

  9. etguild2 says:

    Really Lex? I know Americans love their inspirational biopics with a tall glass of fresh sap, and this hits the sports/”white people helping the blacks” sweet spot, but Best Picture…no. It simply doesn’t have the Sass Master/blunt force performance of a Sandra Bullock/Octavia Spencer/Bryce Dallas Howard to beat audiences into submission, thank goodness, meaning it will be forgotten about long before voting begins.

  10. cadavra says:

    It’s too early in the year to start making a lot of reasonable BP predictions, but let’s not forget that most of the Academy voters are still people who were alive when the Beatles broke up, and this’ll play to them just like THE KING’S SPEECH and THE ARTIST. Lex did say “possible,” and I can’t disagree with him on that.

  11. I’m with Lex on this one, on both counts. I didn’t quite love it but I was very entertained and think the film is a little smarter than its being given credit for. It uses the over-the-top music to hide its more somber undertones (IE – the scene where Robinson and his wife think they are going to be attacked in the street only to be greeted by a white fan tells you everything about the constant terror of the period) and somewhat suggests that Robinson hated his role in history at the time he was making it. *If* the film is leggy and ends up crossing $100 million, then expect Warner Bros. to indeed launch a strong Oscar campaign toward the end of the year. I’d argue had 42 come out in October that, deserved or not, Harrison Ford would be on his way to a Best Supporting Oscar nod. It’s that kind of performance (a lively turn from a famously subdued actor) of that kind of character (the most righteous white dude in a film about racism) delivered by an actor everyone adores. Of course, to be fair, I also thought that Jackie Chan had a shot in hell at a nod for The Karate Kid back in summer 2010, so there’s that.

  12. Jermsguy says:

    I thought it was great. I was afraid it’d be like Red Tails, but Chadwick did a good job of making Jackie Robinson a regular guy with an incredible talent, and I loved his scene where he broke the bat in frustration. I really enjoyed Harrison Ford’s cigar-chomping old man. Seemed like the most fun he’s had in a role in years. Maybe decades.

    The only parts where the “on the nose” aspects were painful were when kids were on the screen. The 10-year-old Ed Charles with the worst sweater ever and then the “gee willikers” white kid in the stands toward the end, both of them made me want to hide my face, and I believe that had
    more to do with the director saying “Here’s a clip from the Little Rascals; now do it like them.”

    Crowd-pleaser. An old-fashioned feel-good inspirational story, and I mean that in a good way. I expect strong legs from it.

  13. chris says:

    I pretty much liked it, but I think the above-mentioned kids are one of several signs that the movie succeeds in spite of its direction. There is one scene — fans heading into the ballpark for a game — where you can see the extras taking their cue to start moving.

  14. christian says:

    Well, somebody besides Anghus actually didn’t feel this story was too late.

  15. berg says:

    i thought harrison ford’s eyebrow merkin made him look like Yoda doing an impression of McGruff the CrimeDog …. Ford is also in Ender’s Game playing Col. Graff, and I bet he kicks ass in the role (the colonel also has an assistant named Han Soto)

  16. etguild2 says:

    Please. I love the story, but it could write itself, and whenever the film starts to take a risk, it cops out. It doesn’t quite amount to the pile of righteous hooey “Blind Side” was, but it’s still a pandering, self-conscious, targeted piece of studio gloop.

    And the lack of a defining performance…even people that liked it can’t agree who they liked best…is an Awards Season mercy killing. Thank goodness.

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