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'42', Jackie Robinson's Story, Is 'Earnest To A Fault'

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

April 15th, 1947 was the day Jackie Robinson first played as a Brooklyn Dodger, and this weekend, a new movie comes out telling the story of how he broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. The movie's called "42." That was Robinson's number. Film critic Kenneth Turan has this review.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: "42" is old-fashioned and earnest to a fault, but it's hard to imagine a film about Jackie Robinson doing it any other way. The man who made Robinson a Dodger was general manager Branch Rickey, played by Harrison Ford. He's determined to integrate baseball, and hand-picks Robinson for the job.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "42")

TURAN: When the two men meet, Rickey lets Robinson know he has to control his temper no matter what's thrown at him if this venture is to succeed.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "42")

TURAN: "42" has been smart in its choice of actors. Chadwick Boseman plays Robinson, and Nicole Beharie is his wife Rachel, who lived the whole thing with him.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "42")

TURAN: Writer-director Brian Helgeland, who won an Oscar for writing the very different "L.A. Confidential," does not soft-pedal the savage, poisonous nature of the racism Robinson had to deal with from opponents, umpires and his own teammates. This story had so much drama in real life, that "42" ends up being effective in its gee-whiz way almost in spite of itself.

Still, you can't help wishing the telling was sharper than it is, that "42" wasn't so much the standard Hollywood biopic. When the credits of "42" announce elements of this film have been dramatized, it's tempting to reply: not dramatized enough.

GREENE: That's Kenneth Turan. He reviews movies for both MORNING EDITION and for the Los Angeles Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kenneth Turan is the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition, as well as the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. He has been a staff writer for the Washington Post and TV Guide, and served as the Times' book review editor.
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