It’s a beautiful, sunny, 55 degree April day. Perfect day for a baseball game, or at least going to see a movie about a baseball legend anyway. Just left the theater after seeing “42”, the new film chronicling the beginning of Jackie Robinson’s career. From his start with the Kansas City Monarchs Baseball Club, to the minor leagues with the Dodgers affiliate, the Montreal Royals, to being the star rookie of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Some people may see this as just another sports film or biopic that is trying to start Oscar buzz nearly a full year before next year’s Academy Awards, but I don’t agree with that. This was a truly great sports film, love story, human drama.
Leading the cast is a relative unknown, Chadwick Boseman, who portrays Jackie as if he were the man himself. And while Boseman has been acting and starring in television and films for 10 years this is his first true breakout role. Alongside him is Nicole Behari, playing Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s wife and still living widow. Another unknown who’s mostly worked in independent or little-seen films, but I can tell you that I hope her career booms after this movie. She was something to behold here. Beautiful, strong and always beyond supportive of her husband, she brought Rachel to the screen like I’m sure no other could. She even looked almost exactly like the real woman. Finishing out the leading trifecta is Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, the Dodgers General Manager at the time, most famously known for being the one to break the color barrier in the Major League Baseball by hiring Robinson. He truly channels Rickey to a point that I forgot who I was watching in the role from time to time. From his looks, to his mannerisms, to his down-pat impersonation of Rickey’s well-known gruff voice. There are so many people in this cast that I can’t praise them all individually, but trust me they all did a fantastic job here.
One of the things I liked most about the cast is the fact that it was made of mostly unknown faces with only a few famous actors throughout. It was clear to me that they cared more about the right performances than just getting a lineup of big names in a movie that really could have been mediocre Oscar-bait.
This was a beautifully shot film that blended excellent cinematography with subtle digital effects to bring the United States of the mid-40’s to life. Superbly written and directed by Brian Helgeland, another name that many may not know, but he’s written and directed some great Hollywood dramas. And 42 could be destined to be the next great American sports classic.
With the real Rachel Robinson as a consultant on the film we get a better inside look at conversations and scenarios that played out that normally would have been turned into standard Hollywood dramatic exaggerations. And nothing in this film seems forced or exaggerated, which was a great relief to me. It feels like we’re getting to step into a time machine and see how it all really happened.
We see the serious ups and downs of being the first black MLB player. We see the darkest moments and the most uplifting moments. Really great performances across the board and it was wonderful seeing these actors bring so many legends back to life. Another treat was seeing legendary footage or photographs re-created for the movie down to the finest detail.
I was hit with the full range of emotions while watching this. I laughed out loud, I teared up, I got angry and I was inspired to the point where I wanted to stand, cheer and clap in the theater. We even get to see some of the lives he touched as rookie. Some are first-hand interactons and some he would probably never know about. There’s even a scene that really shook me in which a young boy is at one of the games with his father. They’re talking about famed Dodger short-stop Pee Wee Reese (played perfectly by Lucas Black) and whether or not he’ll have multiple runs that day. The game starts and Robinson steps out onto the field and some of the crowd starts yelling for him to leave (insert racist rants here), the camera pans down the line of angry people until we hit the boy’s father who is surprisingly a part of it. It’s shocking to see. Even though we don’t know this man, we saw him for about 30 seconds before this, it’s shocking because he’s in such a good mood – enjoying a game with his son and then he does a complete 180 by angrily shouting racial slurs. The son is just as shocked as we are, quietly seeing this change in his dad, but then joins in… It is a very sad thing to see. The whole scene really just shows that racism is taught, not born. The only bit of hope we see is that the kid really doesn’t seem to feel right about joining in, he does it for a short time, but looks miserable doing so. He was definitely looking to have fun at a baseball game with his dad, not yell terrible things at a player on their favorite team.
At 2 hrs and 8 mins, it’s a solid film. Not overly long and not too short. It covers about 2 years and a lot happens in those 2 years, but we’re not drowned in useless scenes or factoids. The pacing is well done, but there are so many things that happen, that sometimes I was unsure of how they could end the movie, but no worries it’s done exactly the way it should be.
Overall this was a truly great film. It hit all the right notes. It’s never preachy or overbearing. It doesn’t try to elevate Robinson to something he wasn’t. He was just a guy who wanted to play baseball and knew the only way to do that was to take the blows, mostly verbal, sometimes physical, and just keep on going. It’s a good movie about a good man who became a legend.