Best Sports Story in Ages
Many inspiring stories come from the field of sports. This is true about 42, a new Warner Bros. film focusing on Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey, the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager who took a stand against prejudice by hiring the first African American to play on a major league baseball team.
It’s the mid 40s and Rickey (Harrison Ford), at 65, has given his life to baseball -- a game he dearly loves. But he's also concerned about faith and injustice. When he tells Harold Parrott (T.R. Knight) – a sports columnist who became Rickey’s secretary -- that he’s going to hire Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), a kid on the all-black Kansas City Monarchs baseball team -- Parrott thinks the GM has lost his mind. Rickey replies, “I’m a Methodist, Jackie’s a Methodist and God’s a Methodist; I’m hiring him.”
As the news spreads fast, objections come from coaches of other teams as well as Rickey’s own players on his Montreal Royals farm team. It doesn’t matter that Jackie had attended college, excelled in several sports and served in the Army -- he was the wrong color. One announcer calling a game and attempting to be impartial refers to Jackie as “definitely brunette.”
Jackie accepts Rickey’s offer. He’d already gone through racial prejudice in the Army but never imagined how bad it would really get. Rickey knows, and tries to give Jackie some advice about not responding to it, saying. “I want a player who’s got the guts not to fight back. Your enemy will be out in force. You’ll have to turn the other cheek.”
Jackie keeps his calm through many ugly rants and raves through many games, thanks to Rickey’s support and loving words from Jackie’s wife Rachael (Nicole Beharie) whom he marries right before signing a contract with Rickey.
In 1947, Rickey sends Jackie to the major leagues on the Dodgers baseball team as a first baseman. Jackie is again bombarded with slurs from everyone, including news crews and opposing teams. Jackie really has to struggle when Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk), the coach of the Philadelphia Phillies, stands on the sideline every time Jackie comes to bat and calls him names or screams racial slurs at him. This becomes a real turning point with some of Jackie’s teammates and also a pivotal moment in the racial injustice occurring at that time in America.
Director Brian Helgeland has also written a wonderful script for this film. He not only unveils a significant time in American history concerning sports and our nation but also brings real-life heroes to the big screen.
“Branch Rickey is a great, albeit forgotten, figure,” Helgeland said. “Historians and those in baseball know who he was, but the average person has no idea. He’d given his life to the game and thought very deeply about how to improve it.”
Harrison Ford gives an amazingly passionate performance as Rickey. Not once does he seem to be an actor playing a part. His gentle guiding of Jackie seems subtle, but his messages to those who go against him or Jackie have the wrath of God in them. Rickey was a man of deep faith, and he let that be known many times. In the screening I attended the audience actually clapped, whistled or cheered when Rickey came down on someone for their actions.
Although Boseman resembles the real Robinson, Helgeland found an even better reason to cast Boseman -- basically a TV star -- in this key role. “You can see him reacting even when he’s being quiet,” Helgeland said. “You know how things are hitting him just looking at his face.”
Boseman responded, “Sometimes what a person doesn't say is more powerful than what they say. And the way Robinson played the game was so outspoken and demonstrative; he was able to perform in the most clutch moments and on the grandest stages. That spoke volumes, and it added value to Robinson’s words when he did become vocal.”
With every insult, Boseman clearly shows Jackie’s silent pain, and whenever Rickey offers up another biblical example -- “You living the sermon, 40 days in the wilderness” -- Jackie understands it, and so do those watching the film.
There’s so much more about Jackie Robinson that time would not allow in this film, but Helgeland does a great job presenting the kind of man Robinson was. One scene vividly explores this by showing Jackie boarding a train and stopping to toss a baseball to a young boy with a baseball mitt standing nearby. The lad’s smile is as big as the moon -- and we later learn in the credits that he became a major league player.
42 is a great movie that enlightens viewers about an important time in history while entertaining them as well.
(Released by Warner Bros. Pictures and rated "PG-13" for thematic elements including language.)
Review also posted at www.reviewexpress.com.