The critics seem to fall into two main camps: movie critics with no special knowledge about baseball, who based their comments solely on the production values and storytelling and those baseball nerds with lots of knowledge about the topic who were mostly interested in the attention to detail, some to a most picayune level.
Let’s start with the former. Give a bad review to the story of a great American hero is like booing Santa Clause. It can’t be done in good conscience. So you have a number of reviews who will find something — anything — nice to say. The clothing was very cool, for example. The actors were well-meaning and earnest in their performances, even if some were seen as a bit stiff or cartoonish.
On the other hand (and I will offer my own review in the next post), there were a number of elements that were almost distracting (and that doesn’t include those aforementioned historical inaccuracies). The music, which at times was so intent on telegraphing what was coming that the movie should have given product placement to Western Union (kids, ask your parents). The CGI of the ballparks reminded me of the overdone scenes in movies like 300, the colors too rich and saturated, to the point of distraction. Some of the dialogue, especially for the two kid actors — one black, one white — were equally ridiculous (the white kid asks his dad how many runs Pee Wee Reese will score in that day’s game between the Dodgers and Reds; the black kid, who reminds his over-protective mother that he’s 10 years old, explains the balk rule to her with language that is at once those of a child prodigy and insultingly condescending.
As for those baseball historians, they ignore the disclaimer at the beginning of the film which clearly states that it is based on a true story. That’s an important distinction. So when certain events transpire that did not actually happen, or did happen but with different agents of action (a quote attributed to player A when it was actually player B who said it), well, I think these nitpickers are just showing off.
What both the film critics and baseball critics fail to realize is that the general audience does not care about these details. They are coming to see the (generally true) story of one of the — if not the — most influential people in the civil rights movement. So it comes as no surprise when the closing credits roll to the sound of applause.
Herewith is my last list of links to 42, running the gamut of the initial opinions to the detail-oriented discrepancies. Enjoy.
- An early piece from the Right off the Bat blog
- Tom Hoffarth (Farther off the Wall) with a Harrison Ford Q&A about playing Branch Rickey
- A “rerun” of Dana Jennings’ piece in The new York Times about the “legend” of Robinson vs. the retelling
- This link to Baseball Nation contains numerous stories they ran about the film, including a deconstruction of a “Rogue’s Gallery” in which Rob Neyer discusses characters as they’re portrayed in the movie versus their real-life “contributions” and “Digging into “42” – Did they get their facts straight?“, as well as suggestions for what the next big baseball film should be from the likes of John Thorn, Bob Costas, and Joe Posnanski, among others.
- Jonathan Eig, author of Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season, offers his thoughts from his ChicagoSide blog.
- If you’re still interested, you can read the movie novelization.
- A review from the long-format sports website Sports on Earth.
- A segment from CBS’ Sunday Morning, which includes an interview with Ford.
- A piece from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel about Rachel Robinson’s take on the film. (She has been most gracious about the movie, but I wonder how any of a certain age would feel about their decades-younger doppelganger.)
- Reviews from Time Magazine, Denver Westword and Screenrant.
- Tom Hoffarth on how John C. McGinley chose to portray Dodgers’ broadcaster Red Barber and how Chadwick Boseman chose not to portray Robinson.
- Tom Hoffarth’s piece on Bob Costas’ MLB Network interview with Ford, Chadwick Boseman (who plays Robinson), and Don Newcombe. Hoffarth’s entry includes a video of Branch Rickey in an appearance on the old TV game show, What’s My Line. A retired JR put in an appearance on the show as well.
- From The Atlantic: “The Real Story of Baseball’s Integration That You Won’t See in 42” and “What Really Happened to Ben Chapman, the Racist Baseball Player in 42?“
- Columnist Joe Posananski’s take and author Allen Barra’s.
- And last, but not least, The Onion’s take.