42 ★★

It’s always frustrating when a potentially great story is ruined by the fumbling heavy hands of its director and so it proves with Brian Helgeland’s biopic of baseball legend, Jackie Robinson. 42, named after Robinson’s shirt number (the only one to be retired by all teams in the sport) is an overblown and sentimental true underdog story following Robinson’s rookie season as he became the first black player to be drafted into Major League Baseball.

Suffering from racial prejudice at every turn, Robinson is an inspirational figure who transformed the game and broke the colour barrier. His story is one that demanded to be told but I’d seriously question Helgeland’s approach as he turns a great story of both historical and personal significance into a cloying melodrama that delivers nothing but platitudes and crude baseball metaphors.

It was clear from the get-go, when Harrison Ford’s blustering owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers demands a black player on the team, that the film was going to ignore subtle characterisation in favour of blunt exposition. Every single word uttered by the cast hammers home the film’s message to the point nobody ever resembles a real human being. Even Robinson is served poorly by the heavy-handed script as it oversimplifies his courage and personal struggles into easy to understand soundbites.

Robinson’s story is still inspiring but it is no thanks to Helgeland who simply relies on syrupy sentiment and a swelling orchestral score. If it wasn’t for Chadwick Boseman’s dignified turn as Robinson the film would be close to unwatchable and whilst Ford has fun as the dogged Dodgers’ boss his endless sermons wear thin before the first excruciating scene had even finished.

42 does a sad disservice to a story that needed to be told.