2013 / Brian Helgeland > There’s nothing worse in sports than mismanaging a prized asset. You can’t force positions on a player he’s physically not fit for, though some managers and coaches will outsmart themselves into thinking so. Once in a while, it may end up working, but statistically, success is an uncommon outcome. Therefore prized assets, especially those with significant potential, should be handled with care by the gentlest and more sophisticated of persons.
Jackie Robinson was a prized asset, a great ballplayer and an equally great man who struck one of the strongest chords in the fight for racial equality in American history. To think that he entered the big leagues over 15 years before Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech is to gain perspective on the importance of Robinson’s act. As such, his story, to be told for a wide audience, should have been handed to someone more capable than a director whose best effort was a Mel Gibson revenge flick.1 It’s painful to witness a story of such gravity butchered with generic characterization and amateur manipulation tactics. Too many by-the-line good vs. bad guy scenes undermine Robinson’s actual achievements for a feel good time, one that can be had only if you can force yourself to turn a blind eye to such shenanigans. In an era of heightened racism due to anti-Obama rhetoric and the wide net cast by social media, it’s important to remain objective about race relations rather than pigeonhole them into buckets to serve superficial purposes. Sadly, 42 sends Robinson back to the minors and loses out on an opportunity to educate contemporary youth about race history.
Helgeland won an Oscar for writing L.A. Confidential, but surely Curtis Hanson’s tight directing is what ultimately kept it together. ↩