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Friday, April 19, 2013

"42" - We didn't want it to end

My husband and I loved "42." As we walked out of the theatre, I told him "I heard that music getting louder and I thought, Oh no, it can't be ending."

Mike said, "That's exactly how I felt. I didn't want it to end."

This was a first for us.

Why was "42" so good? It was what movies are supposed to be: entertaining. It grabbed our interest and never let go. We cared about the characters and the compelling tale. No surprise, since "42" was written and directed by Brian Helgeland, the genius behind "L.A. Confidential," one of the best films ever made, in my opinion. For Mike and me, it was a bonus that "42" was a story based on real human beings during a real period of history.

I read a review of "42" that complained about the film's soft-pedaling of the era's racial horrors. The reviewer groused that any true movie about Jackie Robinson could not get a PG-13 rating. The same thing, I suppose, could be said about "Lincoln." Yet "Lincoln" managed with the PG-13. I disagree with this reviewer's claim. "42" has plenty of squirm-worthy scenes; any viewers who don't feel the sting of racism must be out for popcorn.

Although Mike and I are children of the 1950s and not the 1940s of the movie, we remember well the time when baseball was king in America, when every gathering of family or friends included a  pick-up game. The warm tones of the movie brought back some warm memories.

Every "42" baseball game scene was fun - not an easy thing to achieve, I suspect. I loved the shots of Robinson stealing and sliding into bases. I always felt excited by the drama - I was with him and rooting for him every step of the way.

I discovered that Robinson was much more than I ever realized. Yes, he was the first black major leaguer. But he was also a super athlete. What a pleasure to learn that and marvel at the truth of it.

Chadwick Boseman is solid, and a fair look-alike of Robinson, in the lead role. I believed him all the way. Nice muscles, too.

Harrison Ford was hilarious as Branch Rickey, the Dodgers general manager who, right after World War II, defied mainstream U.S. culture when he hired Robinson to play with the Dodgers. I don't know if Ford was imitating Rickey after soaking up old film reels of the man, or if he was just doing a cartoon crusty old guy bit, but he was fun. I enjoyed seeing Ford lose his adventure hero persona and become instead a quirky senior citizen.

The only blot on the film, for me, was Nicole Beharie's portrayal of Robinson's wife Rachel. I'm probably the world's worst actor, and I know little about the craft, but every time she came onscreen, I thought, "how fakey." Her facial expressions and vocal intonations were like frosting spread too thickly -  "schmacting," I'm afraid. She was sure beautiful to look at, though.

There was an anachronism that bothered me: Although the costumes were elegant and Nicole Beharie was always dressed immaculately as Rachel Robinson, I don't believe that a ladylike woman living before 1950 would ever wear a sheer yellowish blouse with a black bra very visible beneath. The first time I saw that style  was during the mid-to-late 1960s, and it was shocking then.

Something refreshing in the movie: the notion that God exists, and that there is a moral code. Nowadays, movie makers seem scared to acknowledge the force that through creation drives many of us (apologies to Dylan Thomas).

PS - "42" is a far, far more enjoyable baseball movie than the 2011 "Moneyball" with its stream of images of Brad Pitt looking deeply, oh so deeply pensive (reminiscent of "Troy " with its stream of images of Brad Pitt gazing nobly into the distance.) I know that many people loved "Moneyball," but I found it a snoozefest. Not so with "42."

Teacher Gail Grade: B plus

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