★★★★☆The best sports films are often those where enjoyment is not entirely dependent on a love of the game in question, and Brian Helgeland's 42 (2013) fits that criteria perfectly. Unflinching in its depiction of the legendary Jackie Robinson's journey from the Negro leagues to Major League Baseball, the stirring material is matched by some pitch-perfect performances. That journey begins in 1945, where Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) seeks out Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) in a bid to break the colour barrier in baseball. For daring to break that unwritten law, both manager and athlete are branded outcasts.
It's a testament to the excellent performances that those moments hit as hard as they do. In his most challenging role to date, Boseman's Robinson is suitably charismatic and earnest, giving us a human portrayal of an icon that's easy to get behind. However it is Ford's transformative turn as the God-fearing Rickey that is the standout here; there are several scenes where the actor raises his level, and it's a performance worthy of a Supporting Actor Oscar nod.
Additionally, Helgeland - who has previously penned Mystic River (2003) and L.A. Confidential (1997) - ensures that the supporting characters are equally well-rounded, and the solid supporting cast are all effective in their roles. There's no denying the familiar presence of sport movie tropes, but 42 loses none of its appeal because of them, and there is a lot to admire in Robinson's well-told story. Fittingly, the film's postscript tells us that 42 is the only number ever to be retired by all of baseball, and all involved can take heart from the fact that they have done the iconic figure justice.