I had the pleasure of watching the movie “42” last night so thought I would post my review. The beginning credits alert us that it was “based on a true story.” Really? Who knew! (Maybe there was a specific reason they had to include that, I don’t know.)
The opening scenes paint the picture of the country at the time. Afro-American men returned from fighting for their country in World War II, but Jim Crow laws segregating them from the white man’s world were still in effect. The movie also touches on what I think is one of the interesting contradictions in baseball history - how was baseball, a sport so steeped in tradition and history, at the forefront of integration? Because of the work of two men: Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson.
I thought the movie was magnificently cast- it was one of those movies where the main players (no pun intended) are so well known that the choice to go with relative unknowns really allows you to identify with them as their character, not as “famous actor x” playing a character. Chadwick Boseman, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Jackie Robinson, does an admirable job in the baseball scenes capturing Robinson’s athletic mannerisms such as dancing off the bases to distract the pitcher or sliding into second base. He also takes us into the mind of a man thrust into this world and gives us a glimpse of the rage, frustration and despair Robinson must have felt leading up to and during that first season in Brooklyn.
The other cast members portraying Robinson’s teammates shed some light onto an underappreciated aspect of the story: what must it have been like to be a teammate of his? The actors portraying PeeWee Reese and Ralph Branca both have memorable scenes. Of course, Harrison Ford is a well-known actor and it’s a different type of role for him - instead of the swashbuckling Indiana Jones or playing a romantic lead, he plays an older man with what I’m guessing are fake eyebrows and some face prosthetics? He gives audiences a glimpse of the man who would make such a momentous decision. There is even a local connection: Minneapolis native T.R. Knight plays Dodgers employee Harold Parrott.
I am a fan of some of Brian Helgeland’s movies (“L.A. Confidential” and “Mystic River”) and thought the movie was well-paced. There was only one scene, when Rachel Robinson leaves her son with the babysitter to go to the game, that I thought disrupted the flow of the movie. (I still don’t understand what the point of that scene was.) Some of the language is pure Hollywood drama (“What do you do when a hero comes to dinner?”). And, as always, the filmmakers took liberties with the facts to make it flow better as a movie (the legendary scene of PeeWee Reese putting his arm around Jackie Robinson may not have taken place in Cincinnati). But fans of the game will be able to appreciate the research and authenticity of the baseball scenes and non-baseball fans will enjoy the great human story.
To Helgeland’s credit, the movie doesn’t sugar coat what Robinson experienced (In fact, as it is in most cases, you know the movie barely scratches the surface.) The PG-13 rating is mostly due to the racial epithets liberally used in the film. With such heavy subject matter, I was also impressed by the film’s ability to intersperse humor throughout. (In one memorable scene, the new Dodgers manager Burt Shotton comes into the clubhouse to introduce himself to the players, turns to Jackie Robinson and says, “You Robinson?”) This is a great addition to the cadre of baseball movies and reminds us to take a minute to remember the sacrifices of two great men who changed our country more than 60 years ago.
Have you seen it and what did you think?