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42 – Mark Isham

42Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Growing up in England, you don’t really get to know much about the history of baseball. Obviously, we know that the sport exists (even though it is nothing more than fancy rounders!), and having lived in the United States for as long as I have now, I can now throw out some of the most famous names – Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Hank Aaron, Jackie Robinson – and have a basic idea of who they were and what they did. Beyond that paltry smattering, however, the details of most of the rest of baseball lore is still unknown to me, and prior to watching 42 I knew as much about the life of Jackie Robinson as I would expect the average American to know about, say, Laurie Cunningham – and if you just had to Google him you just proved my point.

For those who don’t know, Jackie Robinson was the first black baseball to play in the major leagues, breaking the ‘color barrier’ when he was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers from the Negro Leagues by Dodgers owner Branch Rickey to play in the 1947 baseball season. Prior to 1947, American baseball had been segregated by race for over 60 years, and Robinson’s signing was a national phenomenon, opening the gates for other black players to make the transition, but also becoming an important milestone in what would eventually become the Civil Rights movement. Along the way, however, Robinson had to deal not only with the terrible racism hurled at him from fans, opponents, and even some of his own teammates, but also with the equally real pressure of being an effective professional baseball player when the sport was still America’s national pastime. Director Brian Helgeland’s film 42 – so named for the number Robinson wore on his Dodgers uniform – tells Robinson’s life story during this important transitional period. Chadwick Boseman stars as Robinson, Harrison Ford plays Branch Rickey, Nicole Beharie plays Robinson’s graceful wife Rachel, and the supporting cast includes such talented character actors as Christopher Meloni, Andre Holland, John C. McGinley and Alan Tudyk.

Sports dramas often result in excellent scores; the roar of the crowd, the triumph over adversity, and the adulation of the public can inspire a composer to greatness. Mark Isham’s score for 42 might not quite be in the same league as Jerry Goldsmith’s Rudy or Randy Newman’s The Natural, or even his own score for Miracle about the 1980 Olympic ice hockey team, but it mines a similar vein of rich Americana, resulting in an engaging, enjoyable work that leaves a generally positive impression. Warm string writing, noble-sounding accompanying horns (including some of Isham’s own trumpet solos), sonorous oboes and feather-light flutes, and an overall sense of upbeat optimism standing up in the face of oppression are the hallmarks of the score.

The score embraces several styles of writing, each characterizing a different aspect of Robinson’s life. The tender Americana tends to reflect the sense of destiny and importance in Robinson’s story: cues such as the opening “He’s Coming”, the dignified “Jack Roosevelt Robinson”, “Spring Training” and the sentimental “Jackie Talks to His Son” are slow and stately, but swell with pride. Conversely, the few darker moments of dramatic pathos or genuine danger – “You Can’t Go In There”, the second half of “Jackie Has to Run”, “A White Man’s Game”, “Hate Mail”, “Spiked” – remind the listener that the world in 1947 was a not a place to be taken lightly for a black man, and illustrate the pointless hardships half the population had to endure purely because of the color of their skin. Heavier percussion, and more reliance on cellos and basses, are the name of the game in these tracks.

The baseball sequences are upbeat and lively, often with action-cue aesthetics, more vibrant string writing, sprightly trumpet calls and a more energetic percussive beat. Some of these cues even embrace a few 1940s jazz stylistics to capture the joy with which Robinson played the game: the mischievousness with which Robinson bamboozled opposition pitchers and stole bases really comes through in “You Are a Hero”, the bubbly “Jackie’s Style of Baseball”, and the tension releasing “Jackie Steals”. Elsewhere, the score rises into large, emotional crescendos on several occasions, with the finale of “Rachel is Pregnant”, the determinedly poignant and moving “Jackie is Brought Up”, and the cathartic “Peewee and Jackie” all being immensely satisfying musical statements. The 7-minute finale cue, “Jackie Robinson”, brings everything together in a large-scale, emotionally fulfilling piece that will likely be the score’s seminal cue.

42 is a quite lovely score; not one which will win any awards or turn people into die hard Isham fans, but which will engage listeners enough over its 40-minute running time to warrant repeated listening experiences. Fans of earlier Isham scores such as Miracle, Racing Stripes, Eight Below or October Sky will find plenty to enjoy here, and the music in general stands as a pleasant, appropriate tribute to one of America’s greatest sporting heroes.

Rating: ***½

Buy the 42 soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • He’s Coming (1:34)
  • You Can’t Go In There (1:07)
  • Jack Roosevelt Robinson (1:31)
  • Can You Do It (1:56)
  • Spring Training (1:23)
  • You Are a Hero (0:58)
  • Jackie’s Style of Baseball (3:15)
  • Jackie Has To Run (2:30)
  • Why Are You Doing This? (3:00)
  • Rachel Is Pregnant (1:43)
  • Jackie Talks To His Son (1:01)
  • Jackie Apologizes To Wendell (1:16)
  • Jackie Is Brought Up (4:18)
  • A White Man’s Game (0:41)
  • Jackie Steals (2:07)
  • They Are Never Going To Beat You (1:07)
  • Hate Mail (1:25)
  • Pee Wee and Jackie (1:33)
  • Spiked (1:02)
  • Branch Rickey (1:39)
  • Jackie Robinson (6:46)

Running Time: 41 minutes 45 seconds

Watertower Music (2013)

Music composed by Mark Isham. Conducted by Robert Ziegler. Recorded and mixed by Dennis Sands and Peter Cobbin. Edited by Thomas Milano. Album produced by Mark Isham.

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