Reel Reviews

‘42’

Audience:
A-III – adults

 

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A story bigger than baseball

To paraphrase the title of an earlier movie about the national pastime of baseball, hate strikes out in the historical drama “42” (Warner Bros.). This uplifting – if sometimes heavy-handed – film recounts the 1947 reintegration of professional baseball after decades of segregated play.

As the script shows us, this racial breakthrough – which marked a significant milestone in the onward march of the Civil Rights movement – was made possible by the collaborative efforts of Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) and Negro League star Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman).

In the aftermath of World War II, Rickey was determined to add a black player to the Brooklyn roster of “Dem Bums.” In Robinson – whose Dodgers uniform, once he wore it, bore the number of the title – Rickey found a sportsman with sufficient character to endure all the abuse that would have to be faced to make this change a reality.

Rickey’s motivation was in part, of course, financial; in a diverse city like New York, integrated play would lead to an expanded fan base. But, according to the movie, both his vision and Robinson’s courage also can be attributed to their shared Christian faith.

This bond is first indicated in a humorous way when Rickey, reviewing Robinson’s file, observes that everything is going to work out fine since “he’s a Methodist, I’m a Methodist, God’s a Methodist ... .”

Later, in describing to Robinson the forbearance he will need to demonstrate, Rickey gravely compares it to that of “our Savior.” And, while remonstrating with a racist opponent, Rickey reminds him – albeit somewhat jokingly – that he will someday stand before God to be judged.

Catholicism is only specifically referred to in passing – and in a retrospectively curious light. Rickey learns from the commissioner of baseball that his manager, the legendary Leo Durocher (Christopher Meloni), is being suspended from the game for a year. The Catholic Youth Organization, it seems, objects to the flagrantly adulterous affair Durocher has been carrying on with his mistress. The organization’s threat of a boycott, so the commissioner assures Rickey, is not to be ignored.

Robinson’s marriage, by contrast, is shown to be both a model of success and a crucial source of support in his struggle. As he courts and marries his sweetheart Rachel (Nicole Beharie) – and as they embark on parenthood together – she proves a tower of strength to her husband, by turns egging him on and cooling him down.

The proceedings are buoyed by the feisty righteousness with which Ford, in splendid form, plays Rickey and by the inspiring example of Robinson’s unbreakable determination.

While some elements of the movie’s dialogue would normally exclude youthful viewers, the moral impact of Rickey and Robinson’s history-altering partnership may make their story acceptable for older teens.

The film contains an adultery theme, racial slurs, fleeting humor implicitly referencing homosexuality, a few uses of profanity, at least one crude term and occasional crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

‘Oblivion’

Audience:
A-III – adults

 

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Yawn – it’s 2077 all over again

Large-scale landscapes and shiny gadgets make for arresting visuals in the science fiction epic “Oblivion” (Universal). But director Joseph Kosinski’s emotionally shallow adaptation of his own graphic novel is further undermined by logical lapses and some dubious philosophizing.

While mature moviegoers may shrug off the amateur metaphysics of the script easily enough, taken together with its ethical complexities — difficult to probe for fear of spoilers — they make this convoluted dystopian drama wholly unsuitable for young or impressionable viewers.

Protagonist Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) does his best to fill us in: It’s 2077; 60 years ago, invading aliens known as Scavengers shattered the moon and almost conquered Earth. Fortunately, humanity managed to find itself a new home on Saturn’s moon Titan.

Along with a navigator named Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), Jack has been dispatched to our home planet to tend machinery that harvests Earth’s natural resources for the people of Titan. A romantic as well as professional pair, Jack and Victoria lead a cozy, placid life under the watchful guidance of mission control.

All of that begins to change with the unexpected arrival of Julia (Olga Kurylenko), an astronaut from the days before the intergalactic war. Her crash landing draws an unexpected and troubling response from Jack’s superiors.

Jack’s peace of mind is further disturbed by his encounter with a group of guerrilla freedom fighters. Beech (Morgan Freeman), their chief, challenges the inquisitive repairman to test the version of history mission control has long been feeding him.

The far end of Jack's journey of discovery offers audiences some self-sacrificing heroics and a resolution that sees pride-based blasphemy receive its comeuppance. Yet potentially troubling questions about the relationship of physical and spiritual identity also are thrown into the mix. And the revelation of Julia’s true role makes Jack’s initial domestic situation retrospectively problematic.

Well-grounded audience members may succeed in winnowing through all these elements. But they may also wind up asking themselves whether the material at hand justifies so much prudential effort.

The film contains an objectively immoral living arrangement, a scene of sensuality with shadowy rear and partial nudity, a couple of uses of profanity, at least one rough term and a smattering of crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

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B
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C
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D
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G
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H
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I
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J
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P
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Q
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R
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S
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T
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W
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