Movie review: Nostalgic '42' polishes the Robinson legend

Published April 13, 2013 2:04 pm

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The fuzzily nostalgic biopic "42" makes the unsurprising declaration that Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play major league baseball, was a hero and inspiration to millions.

The movie winds through two pivotal years of Robinson's baseball career: 1946, when Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) was signed by Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) to play in the Dodgers' AAA farm club in Montreal; and 1947, his rookie season with the Dodgers, when he endured racist taunts from fans and rival teams — and led the league, Rickey notes, in being hit by pitches.

Writer-director Brian Helgeland ("A Knight's Tale") illuminates some lesser-known aspects of Robinson's legend, such as the slow-building support of his fellow Dodgers and the enduring love of his wife Rachel (Nicole Beharie). Boseman is a charismatic newcomer, who captures Robinson's on-field athleticism and off-field toughness.

Some supporting players, like Christopher Meloni as the Dodgers' irascible manager Leo Durocher and Lucas Black as team captain Pee-Wee Reese, shine in small moments. But the movie is hampered by Ford's scenery-chewing portrayal of Rickey, and a sentimentality toward old-time baseball that makes "Field of Dreams" look like a documentary.

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'42'

Opens Friday, April 12, at theaters everywhere; rated PG-13 for thematic elements including language; 122 minutes.