42: The Jackie Robinson Story (2013) PICK
To the Wonder (2012) PICK
A pair of new films with positive religious themes arrive on home video — a squeaky-clean and remarkably family-friendly one and one that is challenging in both form and content.
42: The Jackie Robinson Story offers an old-fashioned Hollywood take on a defining chapter in American history, celebrating the athletic prowess and grace under fire of the pioneering sports great who crossed baseball’s color line, blazing a trail for later black athletes. Writer-director Brian Helgeland treats his subject with religious respect — both metaphorically and literally — making for an edifying history lesson, though without much complexity or character development.
Harrison Ford is enjoyably hammy as Branch Rickey, the devoutly Methodist Dodgers general manager whose faith is central to his decision to sign Robinson. "Like our Savior, you’ve got to have the guts to turn the other cheek," Rickey tells Robinson. Even more striking is Rickey’s religious language chewing out an opposing team owner who resists playing against Robinson, as well as his citation of the Bible in condemning his manager’s philandering. (On a lighter note, I love Ford’s smirk as he gloats, "Robinson’s a Methodist. I’m a Methodist. God’s a Methodist!")
As played by Chadwick Boseman, our hero is virtuous, proud and strong, devoted to his wife and his infant son. There’s little complexity to the character, though, except for his ferocious struggle to stay composed under a relentless stream of racial epithets from Phillies manager Ben Chapman. 42 is a solid hit, if something short of the grand slam Robinson’s story deserves.
To the Wonder is the latest from contemplative, God-haunted filmmaker Terrence Malick. To the Wonder stars Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko as a couple in an increasingly troubled romance and Javier Bardem as a socially minded priest struggling with a loss of spiritual fervor.
Malick’s search for meaning focuses on the necessity of committing oneself to God, to marriage, to having a child. Indecision and the inability to commit poison everything — strikingly visualized in an X-ray depicting the intrauterine device that nearly necessitates a hysterectomy for Kurylenko. Malick’s trademark style — stunning imagery, introspective voice-overs — is uneven here, with too much pixie playfulness and sexual nudity that many will be uncomfortable with. Still, his latest meditation on fallenness and redemption is, for me, his most immediate and meaningful.
Bonus Picks: Disney’s Robin Hood (1973) and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). (Both are fine family viewing.)
Content Advisory: 42: Heavy racial epithets; crude language and profanity; brief sexual situations. Teens and up. To the Wonder: Restrained but explicit marital and nonmarital sexual encounters. Mature viewing; discretion advised.