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Harrison Ford in talks to play Branch Rickey in Brian Helgeland's film about "how Rickey and Jackie Robinson eradicated segregation in baseball in 1947."

Link to the thread on The Jackie Robinson Story (1950).

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 2 months later...

So, um, yeah, 42...oh dear where do I start?

It's a good story...one we've heard many times before by better storytellers and better reporters. Todd keeps trying to tell me it didn't suck, it was just mediocre. And TECHNICALLY he's right. But emotively I can't bring myself to absolve it from sucking, because it's about Jackie Freakin' Robinson, and if you have a story that good and can't get it past rote mediocrity, then I'm sorry, but that's kind of sad and does kind of suck.

Here's a brief sample of the script:

Boy: I am an earnest and impressionable young boy, and the only one in the world that I adore more than my dad is Pee Wee Reese.

Dad: That's okay, son, Pee Wee is great, I understand. It's just a shame he has to play with that N------.

Boy: What's a N------?

Dad: Jackie Robinson. I hate him.

Body: Then I hate him too.

[Pee Wee puts arms around Jackie Robinson]

Boy: Dad, I feel funny. I hate Jackie Robinson but I love Pee Wee Reese.

Dad: No, son, we hate Pee Wee Reese now.

Boy: Why?

Dad: Because we are what is called "hypocrites" son.

Boy: But I don't want to be a hypocrite, dad.

Dad: Too bad, you have to be.

Boy: But why, dad, why do I have to be a hypocrite?

Dad: Because we are white people from Cincinnati, that's why...

And so on and so forth. It's funny in a film that is so earnest about the evils of racism that we are invited to laugh at Ralph Branca's accidental homophobia. (And the audience I watched with accepted that invitation with a little too much enthusiasm for my taste.

Finally, in one of the scenes in which Branch Ricky explains to Jackie Robinson why what he is doing is important--he says he saw a white boy playing baseball and copying Jackie's mannerisms. Imagine that! A white boy pretending to be a black man.

One of the other critics, I think it was Daniel Johnson said, "And that little white boy grew up to be Quentin Tarantino..." I wish I could give him the Pulitzer for that line.

I was tempted to write on my comment card: THE BEST FEEL GOOD MOVIE ABOUT RACISM SINCE THE HELP! Don't suppose that would get me a pull quote...

Edit: If I can bring myself to write a review, it will be a 2 to 2 1/2 star review. Because the movie isn't really that bad. Really. And maybe because I, too, am a little bit of a hypocrite.

Edit II: Daniel tells me it was his friend William Fonvelle who copped the Tarantino quip.

Edit III: It's still the best non-documentary 2013 release I've seen so far this year. [How's that for a pull quote.]

Edited by kenmorefield
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Am I remembering wrong, Ken, or did you kind of enjoy Red Tails? My take was, this movie was kinda like Red Tails, but better. Red Tails, not The Help, is the point of comparison I would reach for. Both films are nice, edifying history lessons about black heroes serving alongside whites in racist times. But this time with, like, characterizations (not exactly characters, but still). And without the unnecessary sexual content that disqualified Red Tails as the edifying family entertainment it would otherwise be.

Full disclosure: I saw 42 with a crowd of urban black Protestants who Uh huh-ed and That's right-ed and cheered through the whole thing.

Be that as it may, I can't remember the last movie I saw with so little interest in nuance or character development that made me tear up as often as 42.

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Red Tails was one of those movies that I had to look up to remember if I ticked on one click above or below mediocre. I recall thinking it okay, though your comments about sexual content were a reminder that that didn't bother me much (perhaps doesn't bother me as much overall), so I might have been slightly higher than you on that film: http://1morefilmblog.com/wordpress/red-tails-hemingway-2012/

I guess one problem I have in articulating my feelings is that 42 is not entirely or even consistently bad, but when it is bad it is bloody awful, yet when it is good it is never great.

Story=good, acting=professional, direction=shaky but okay with a nice visual in spots. Script=really, really, really, awful. I think there are so many talent people involved that they help gloss over just how bad the script is. But then, I think, the script is no worse than that of COWBOYS VS. ALIENS and I liked that film, so then I go back to, because it is a true story its averageness offends me more than would badness. Scriptwriters to whom much has been given (in the way of story) will have much expected. It would be hard, maybe impossible, for a script to be so bad it made the movie bad, but I can't think of one moment in the film where the script enhanced the value of the story rather than distracted from it.

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Script=really, really, really, awful. I think there are so many talent people involved that they help gloss over just how bad the script is.

When I saw Brian Helgeland wrote 42 (and directed it), my expectations went up because he wrote LA Confidential. But looking at his list of credits, it seems more and more like LA was an outlier and things like Robin Hood, Man On Fire, and The Postman are more representative of his career.

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You ever have one of those e-mail or film experiences where someone has translated something into another language and then someone else has translated the translation back into the original language? That's this film. It feels like someone wrote a movie and then someone wrote a CLIFFS NOTES about the movie with scene by scene analysis, and then someone else reconstructed the move from the analysis, giving the summary to the characters in the form of dialogue. Thus the characters have this maddening quality of narrating what they are doing or why they are doing it rather than, you know, talking to each other.

When I saw Brian Helgeland wrote 42 (and directed it), my expectations went up because he wrote LA Confidential. But looking at his list of credits, it seems more and more like LA was an outlier and things like Robin Hood, Man On Fire, and The Postman are more representative of his career.

A fellow critic friend told me once that a famous novelist he interviewed (who shall remain nameless b/c it's not my story and I haven't confirmed it) told him that he (the novelist) refuses to use e-mail because it kills his writing.

This is a script that reads like it was written by a person who has read and/or written exponentially more script treatments than full screenplays in the last 10-20 years. I suspect (but have no way of knowing) that it would be hard to do that and not have it affect you.

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Tony Kornheiser has said multiple times on his radio show that he's worried about this movie for the reason Ken gets at above: This isn't just any ol' story about overcoming the odds, etc.; this is the Jackie Robinson story! So much riding on that.

And yet, without knowing where the film departs from the historical record (learning of those departures may cloud my reaction), I can't see why people would be gunning for this film. And I can't help but think, in light of SDG's comments about the makeup of the audience with whom he saw the film, and my own similar experience tonight, that we could be looking at the early rumblings of a white critical backlash in the cause of honoring an important black historical figure while black audiences sit back and enjoy the movie for what it is, rather than penalizing it for what it isn't, or what it might have been,

I'd note that Armond White, a black movie critic (for those who don't know), thinks 42 is the year's best movie so far, but I don't know if that will help or hurt the cause of the film's fans, or serve my premise above.

Also: I think Harrison Ford, to borrow a phrase, knocks it out of the park in this movie. I feared a hammy performance, and I have no doubt that reviews are already out there going after Ford in this film, but he plays the role, as written, about as well as anyone could, I think. I haven't seen him this colorful (maybe not the best adjective to use in describing this movie, but it's the term that came to mind) in a long time.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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And yet, without knowing where the film departs from the historical record (learning of those departures may cloud my reaction), I can't see why people would be gunning for this film. And I can't help but think, in light of SDG's comments about the makeup of the audience with whom he saw the film, and my own similar experience tonight, that we could be looking at the early rumblings of a white critical backlash in the cause of honoring an important black historical figure while black audiences sit back and enjoy the movie for what it is, rather than penalizing it for what it isn't, or what it might have been,

Christian, I respect your standing in this community, but I find the racializing of this post, the insinuation that you can't think of any reasons why anyone would be "gunning for the film" (which implies nobody could just not like it, a negative review must be motivated by an agenda) along with the italicized "white" in critical backlash to be offensive and unnecessarily provocative.

It deeply saddens me that after ten years of interactions, some of them personal, that you would choose to characterize me (who is the only critic thus far who has posted in this thread and confessed to not caring for the quality of the movie) in this way.

I personally think if I had made such a post, I would be chastized by a moderator for being out of line, but as I guess I'm not accorded the same respect as other members of this "community" I'll just vacate myself from this thread and let you all get on with insinuating about my racial motivations. Have at it.

Thought I had lost the capacity to be saddened and surprised by A&F community. I was wrong.

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Ken. At the risk of speaking out of place, I didn't read what Christian wrote as attacking you or your views, but of course he can speak for himself. I read it as a question as to how people might respond in general according to their racial (and thus probably cultural) interests, with no real reference to, or reaction towards, your thoughts. I don't think he was trying to be provocative, at least so far as I can see.

Edited by Attica
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Ken. At the risk of speaking out of place, I didn't read what Christian wrote as attacking you or your views, but of course he can speak for himself. I read it as a question as to how people might respond in general according to their racial (and thus probably cultural) interests, with no real reference to, or reaction towards, your thoughts. I don't think he was trying to be provocative, at least so far as I can see.

What Attica said. I didn't get that Christian was being critical toward Ken at all.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I didn't get that Christian was being critical toward Ken at all.

I wasn't. I didn't think this movie was great, but I didn't think it was particularly bad either. However, it's not worth the alienation that one post has already led to, so I, too, will bow out of discussion of this particular film.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Ken: By the time I read Christian's post, I had already come across withering pans of the film in Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, and possibly elsewhere as well. And I know Christian is active on Twitter (certainly more than I am). So I assumed he was referring to the broader critical picture, or "consensus". (It was, in fact, because of this looming "consensus" that I opted not to go to the local preview screening last night, after my wife got home from work a little later than I had expected. It didn't seem like a film worth rush-rush-rushing out the door for.)

As for the charge of "racializing" things... well, we *are* dealing with a film that explicitly tackles racism, no?

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I'd almost forgotten that Jackie Robinson played for a Canadian team before playing for the Dodgers. This fact was even turned into one of those minute-long "Heritage Moments" that used to play before movies in Canadian theatres:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnUcN0txo5g

The new film is surprisingly tolerable, given all the bad buzz I'd been hearing about it. Corny and didactic and formulaic etc., sure, but it works as a kind of secular Sunday-school movie.

Or... *is* it all that secular? Jeffrey Wells noted that the scene where Branch Rickey offers Jackie Robinson the chance to play for the Dodgers (especially the bit about wanting someone who has the guts *not* to fight back) is remarkably similar to the equivalent scene in The Jackie Robinson Story (1950) -- which starred Robinson as himself -- but what strikes me is the *difference* between the two scenes. You can see the relevant bit at the 24:15 mark in the video below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxM_re5-aoU

And you can get a tiny bit of the relevant bit from the new film at the 1:15 mark in the trailer at the top of this thread. But one thing the new film does is make *explicit* the religious connotations of "turning the other cheek", a concept that is alluded to but never phrased as such in the equivalent scene from the 1950 film.

One thing I find myself pondering is the fact that Robinson, as portrayed here, doesn't seem to have any friends or family or community, apart from his wife. (We hear that they attended the wedding, but we never see them or experience their presence. Note, incidentally, how the 1950 film has Rickey tell Robinson to call his mother and ask her advice before signing the contract!)

And I also find myself pondering the fact that, in the past, movies about the history (and pre-history) of the civil rights movement have often downplayed the religiosity of the white characters (who often take centre stage in the overall drama) while playing up the religiosity of the black characters. I touched on this 15 years ago in my Books & Culture article on Amistad, where I referenced films like Glory and Ghosts of Mississippi as examples of this phenomenon, and then I looked at how Amistad tried to move in a different direction by accentuating the religiosity of certain white characters (albeit in a way that reflected Hollywood ambivalence towards evangelicals) while introducing a fictitious and basically secular black character (played by Morgan Freeman) who brings all the other characters together. And it seems to me that what we're seeing now with sports-themed movies like The Blind Side and 42 goes even further in reversing the old stereotype, so that there is now an emphasis on the religiosity of the *white* characters while the religiosity of the black characters is (relatively) downplayed. But I say this as one who only saw The Blind Side once, a few years ago, and doesn't remember it very well, so perhaps I'm forgetting something.

Anyway. Am I on to something here? Is there a third recent film that follows a similar pattern, such that we could say there is an actual "trend" here?

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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My 60 second review:

The new film is surprisingly tolerable, given all the bad buzz I'd been hearing about it. Corny and didactic and formulaic etc., sure, but it works as a kind of secular Sunday-school movie.

This is a good way of putting it, and I think it works well with my Red Tails analogy in my earlier comment.

Or... *is* it all that secular?

I like the way Ford smirks as he delivers the line, "Robinson's a Methodist. I'm a Methodist. God's a Methodist!" Rickey also cites the Bible in disparaging his manager's adultery, among other things. And there's the black kid praying to God for Jackie on the field to make good and show up the racists jeering him. (I also have a note about "40 days in the wilderness," but I no longer recall what that referred to.)

But one thing the new film does is make *explicit* the religious connotations of "turning the other cheek", a concept that is alluded to but never phrased as such in the equivalent scene from the 1950 film.

Indeed: "Like our Savior."

One thing I find myself pondering is the fact that Robinson, as portrayed here, doesn't seem to have any friends or family or community, apart from his wife. (We hear that they attended the wedding, but we never see them or experience their presence. Note, incidentally, how the 1950 film has Rickey tell Robinson to call his mother and ask her advice before signing the contract!)

Very interesting. I also would have liked to see Robinson the Methodist in church at least once.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Eric Metaxas @ USA Today says the film "simply avoids" and "doesn't tell us" about "the devout Christian faith" that motivated Rickey and Robinson to agree that Robinson should turn the other cheek. Um, did he see the same film the rest of us did?

SDG wrote:

: I like the way Ford smirks as he delivers the line, "Robinson's a Methodist. I'm a Methodist. God's a Methodist!"

Yes!

: Rickey also cites the Bible in disparaging his manager's adultery . . .

Yeah, and *without* smirking! He clearly disapproves, even if he "tolerates" it insofar as he doesn't want to fire the manager or anything like that.

That's the one scene, incidentally, that initially made me wonder if my "Sunday-school movie" analogy really works. (Then I wondered if they added that scene just to increase the odds of getting a PG-13 rating. Back when The Fighting Temptations came out, I was told that certain bits of content had been put in there because black men wouldn't go to a movie that was only rated PG: this, at least, was what the movie's publicists had told Christian newspapers who raised questions about the PG-13 rating.) But *then* the film goes on to show how the manager's adultery caused unwanted complications for Rickey's team. So, perhaps a bit of the Sunday-school morality still lingers, there.

: . . . among other things.

Like when he chews out that other team owner for indicating that he'd rather forfeit the game than play against a racially-integrated team. Rickey doesn't quite the use words "Judgment Day", but he certainly does what he can to put the fear of God into that guy.

: And there's the black kid praying to God for Jackie on the field to make good and show up the racists jeering him.

Ah, right, I'd forgotten that. Which is interesting, because that's an actual religious *act* that I don't think we see from any of the other characters (who talk about religious *affiliation* or even religious *motivation*, in the case of the "turn the other cheek" scene, but don't pray or go to church, as far as I can recall).

: (I also have a note about "40 days in the wilderness," but I no longer recall what that referred to.)

That rings a vague bell too, but I can't remember the context either.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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: I like the way Ford smirks as he delivers the line, "Robinson's a Methodist. I'm a Methodist. God's a Methodist!"

Yes!

: Rickey also cites the Bible in disparaging his manager's adultery . . .

Yeah, and *without* smirking! He clearly disapproves, even if he "tolerates" it insofar as he doesn't want to fire the manager or anything like that.

Good point.

That's the one scene, incidentally, that initially made me wonder if my "Sunday-school movie" analogy really works.

Eek, I forgot that scene in talking up the film on the radio last week.

Like when he chews out that other team owner for indicating that he'd rather forfeit the game than play against a racially-integrated team. Rickey doesn't quite the use words "Judgment Day", but he certainly does what he can to put the fear of God into that guy.

Yeah, that might be the most striking use of religious themes in the film.

: And there's the black kid praying to God for Jackie on the field to make good and show up the racists jeering him.

Ah, right, I'd forgotten that. Which is interesting, because that's an actual religious *act* that I don't think we see from any of the other characters (who talk about religious *affiliation* or even religious *motivation*, in the case of the "turn the other cheek" scene, but don't pray or go to church, as far as I can recall).

Good point.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Is anyone here going to address Metaxas's complaint in a review or an article? Just curious. I haven't seen the film, so I won't be doing that... but I'd link to a response.

FWIW, Reel Spirituality's Elijah Davidson posted this one-line review at Letterboxd:

I knew Jackie Robinson was a symbol, but I didn't know he was only a symbol.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Is anyone here going to address Metaxas's complaint in a review or an article? Just curious. I haven't seen the film, so I won't be doing that... but I'd link to a response.

What response, exactly, are you anticipating?

Metaxes' column pulls out the old "based on the success of X, there's a huge audience out there for faith-based stuff" argument, but he's specifically questioning why the film tiptoes around Robinson's faith. The title of the column is. "Jackie Robinson a man of faith," and from what I remember of the movie, I didn't get that from the film. Yes, there are several Christian references, but almost all from Rickey. I don't remember much about Robinson's explicit faith, other than Rickey calling him a Methodist, and Robinson telling his girlfriend, as he proposes, that they've always "done the right thing" -- something that isn't spelled out, but which I thought suggested something honorable, possibly religious.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I've turned my thoughts on the film here (and on Metaxas's critique of the film) into a blog post. Many thanks to SDG, Christian and mrmando for helping me jog my memory etc.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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