Friday, April 19, 2013

42

42
seen @ AMC Fresh Meadows, Fresh Meadows, Queens, NY
4.18.13

And now, five things I thought of as I watched 42:

1. I wished my father had lived to see this, because this would've soooooo been up his alley. I got my appreciation for baseball from him at an early age. (It used to be love at one point. It must have been love, but like the song says, it's over now. Invite me to a ball game and I'll go, especially if it's a minor league game; I just don't feel the passion for it that I once did.)

For all of our conversations about baseball and race over the years, I regret never asking him what his memories were of Jackie Robinson entering Major League Baseball, an event he would've been around for as a kid. I'd ask my mother, but she's never had any interest in sports. Of course, Jackie Robinson transcended sports, but still, I doubt she'd provide me with much in the way of insight. Maybe I'll ask her anyway.



2. This seems kind of silly, but it occurred to me that Robinson's style of play is anathema to the Moneyball philosophy of today. I bring it up because the Brooklyn Dodgers were considered the number three team in New York back in the day (behind the Y-nk--s and Giants), but history shows that they won the 1947 pennant with scrappy little guys that didn't exactly overpower the competition, but found a way to win somehow, much like the Oakland Athletics of Moneyball.

Modern-day sabermetricians - the fans who examine the game through mountains of statistics - have determined that the stolen base, Robinson's forte, is actually counter-productive to a good offense. (I'd explain how, but it'd probably bore you. Just go watch Moneyball again.) Basically, it's considered too high-risk a ploy. Back in 1947, however, it was different. No one ran the basepaths with as much tenacity and alacrity as Robinson, and as we see in the film, it rattled pitchers fiercely. Plus, it was entertaining to watch.



I suspect that's something the sabermetricians might forget for all their number-crunching. Yes, baseball is a game that's played to be won, but there's also something to be said for spectacle. Unlike football and basketball, the action in baseball is slower and more methodical - but to my way of thinking, that means the big moments feel even bigger when they happen. And that's probably what it felt like to watch Robinson in action.

3. Gee, it would be nice if Harrison Ford got a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for this. I almost didn't recognize him at first, what with the bushy eyebrows and the voice. Nothing against star Chadwick Boseman, who was decent if not outstanding (and kudos to Warner Brothers' marketing department for actually putting this relative unknown actor's name ABOVE THE TITLE on the poster), but I think of Ford, and how his star has faded in the past decade or so, and how much of a shame it is that throughout his great career he's only been Oscar-nominated once (for Witness).



Ford, like Bruce Willis, has been a classic, old-school, marquee action star who can also do serious drama and even comedy on occasion. Looking back over his career, one could argue that his last great leading-man role was The Fugitive, and that was twenty years ago. I don't need to see him as Indiana Jones again, and I definitely don't need to see him as Han Solo again (if either one happens), but I would love to see him in another Oscar-caliber performance. Maybe this is it. I think a Lifetime Achievement Oscar is more likely, however, and if that's the case, that would be unfortunate... but what can you do.

4. Writer-director Brian Helgeland's screenplay is more faithful to history than I thought it would be. Take Dodger manager Leo Durocher, for instance (husband of actress Laraine Day at the time). He was one of baseball's more colorful characters, but the fact that he didn't manage the Dodgers in 1947 could be considered problematic from a storytelling angle. 



I thought the movie would either revise history by having him as the manager for the entire season, or simply not mention him at all, but they stuck to the facts; mentioning his extramarital affairs and how the Catholic groups wanted him disciplined for it and his eventual suspension, leading to the search for a new manager. This seems like the kind of detail that films "inspired by actual events" or "based on a true story" tend to ignore for simplicity's sake, but Helgeland didn't. Also, big-ups to Helgeland for not being afraid to use the word nigger in its proper historical context. (I notice no one's complaining about it THIS time.)

I recommend reading the book Opening Day by Jonathan Eig for a more detailed account of Robinson's rookie season. Among other things, you'll find that there's no historical evidence to support whether or not shortstop Pee Wee Reese put his arm around Robinson in a game at Cincinnati. Still, it's the sort of thing that should have happened, because enough people seemed to believe that it did, so it became part of the legend.



5. No World Series? 42 ends with Robinson hitting a home run and the Dodgers winning the pennant, but we never see them go on to the World Series, likely because they lost to the Y-nk--s - and that feels like a cheat. Moneyball showed the A's losing the World Series, which I definitely didn't think it would do, but that's a different kind of movie, with very different themes. 

If I had written the screenplay, I would've begun and ended with an older Robinson at Game 7 of the 1955 Series, which Brooklyn won for the first and last time, and having him reflect on his path to the big leagues. Then we'd see all the stuff that was in the film, and it would end with him celebrating his World Series win with the rest of the Dodgers. 42 is worth seeing for all sorts of reasons, but - forgive the inevitable baseball metaphor - it's a hard-hit double to the left-center field gap instead of a home run.

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