Director: Brian Helgeland
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford
Studio: Warner Bros.
Rated: PG-13 (For thematic elements including language)
With the game of baseball having every other player named Rodriguez or Lopez, it may surprise some people to think there was a time when the game was played almost exclusively by white men. In 1947 though baseball decided to try and open up the game to men of all color with a man named Jackie Robinson, a colored man who wore the now famous number 42 on his jersey. The film “42” is not out to ruffle any feathers. I can't say that I walked out of the film learning anything more about the real Jackie Robinson that I didn't already know. Chances are some people will even dislike the film because it's a safe film about a touchy subject. But it's hard not to be sentimental over America's favorite pastime.
Since this is the time of segregation though, it should come as no surprise that the movies first hero is an old white man named Branch Ricky (Harrison Ford). When the movie opens he loudly muses to a couple of his advisors that he's getting old and wants to do something crazy. When they ask what that crazy thing is he drops the bomb: He's going to sign a negro to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. His reasoning is that in Brooklyn there are lots of colored people who pay to see baseball, and since money is neither black nor white (but green) he's going to tap into this unmarked business. As you can expect there is resistance, but Ricky is determined. When the time comes to sign on Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) he is picked out by Ricky himself from an impressive roster of negro players. Before he hires him though he has one request: Have the courage not to fight back when attacked.
He warns Robinson that he's entering a world that will not accept a colored man in baseball and people will do what they can to intimidate him. If he is to make a difference in this game his weapon of choice will have to be to turn his cheek the other way. Robinson accepts the chance to play for Major League Baseball but doesn't quite grasp how important he really is to the game itself. Though he faces lots of verbal abuse on the field, on the street, and even in the locker room, he just continues playing. He even surprises people by being able to steal bases almost effortlessly. I guess it makes sense that if the Dodgers were going to sign him he was going to have more going for him than the color of his skin. As far as movies go there is nothing inherently wrong with “42” as it is an inspiring movie that perfectly captures a time period that was hostile towards people of color. I suspect there might be some people who will have issues with the film and the fact that Robinson is more of less coached on how to be a “good boy” for the public.
It is true that while Robinson is certainly a likable guy, he's not exactly complicated. The worst you could say about him is that he gets frustrated a couple times during the film. It's the team owner Ricky that gets the best scenes in the film with the juiciest dialog. I'm sure that's going to bother some people out there (like Spike Lee), and for some this means that a great film about Jackie Robinson has yet to be made. Still, there is something to be said for the films simplicity at the same time. Considering “42” chronicles a time period where there was a lot of hate over nothing, it sort of makes sense that this movie would acknowledge the hate of the time while being very non-threatening itself. So while I do believe there's a better movie to be made about the subject matter, for what it is “42” is a pleasant enough time at the movies.
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