Movie Review: 42
Length: 128 minutes
Release Date: April 12, 2013
Directed By: Brian Helgeland
Genre: Biography, drama, sport
Stars: 4 out of 5
Hollywood seems determined to expose audiences to lessons of the past, and it has been successful so far. First, there was the 2012 release of "Argo," which told the story of the 1980 efforts of the CIA to get American diplomats out of Iran, followed by the critically acclaimed biographical drama "Lincoln." The 2013 release of "42" follows those films' footsteps as it gives viewers a look into the life of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American athlete to smash professional baseball's color barrier.
In 1947 when Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) joined the Brooklyn Dodgers wearing number 42, there were few people on his side outside of Dodgers executive Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), team manager Leo Durocher (Christopher Meloni) and his wife Rachel (Nicole Beharie). The first order of business was for his new teammates to sign a petition to have him fired for no other reason than his color, but they were unsuccessful. Unfortunately, Durocher is suspended shortly thereafter for a personal indiscretion, leaving the team without a manager and Jackie without a supporter.
Although he continued to play, his teammates and competing teams didn't let Robinson off easily, and they made it very clear he was not welcome on the field. He was subjected to ongoing racism on and off the field in a way that brings to life what African-Americans had to live with before the Civil Rights Movement. When Jackie stepped out onto the field, he was booed by the audiences. Pitchers seemed to take great pride in being able to hit him with the ball, and he was often subjected to hecklers and racial slurs being tossed at him from the opposing teams on the sidelines.
Jackie Robinson often had problems curbing his temper, but when he was playing, he usually managed to keep it at bay. In a game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Robinson became so incensed that he headed back to the dugout and took his frustration out by smashing his bat. He followed that by going up to bat and hitting a historic home run. Phillies manager Ben Chapman, who was one of the loudest hecklers, saw Jackie's home run and realized how talented he was. In the end, he asked to pose with Robinson so the reporters at the game could take pictures for their publications.
Jackie Robinson managed to take all of his anger and frustration and funnel it into something everyone could relate to-the game of baseball. His talent and athleticism transcended racial lines, and he wound up opening doors for African-American athletes across the country who wanted to achieve their goals.
Director Brian Helgeland did superb job with "42." Instead of trying to be too clever, he let the story unfold in a deliberate way that let the characters shine through and speak for themselves. Helgeland, who won an Oscar for his work on the 1997 smash hit "L.A. Confidential," also wrote the screenplay for "42" as well as other hit films, including "A Knight's Tale," "Conspiracy Theory" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master." The movie "42" was only his sixth time directing a film, with earlier experience gained from films such as "The Order" and "Payback."
Chadwick Boseman was the perfect choice to play Jackie Robinson. Although he has close to ten years of experience under his belt on television shows such as "Persons Unknown" and "Lincoln Heights," he was a relative unknown until landing this role. Before "42," his only big-screen experience was on the set of the 2008 movie "The Express" and the 2012 film "The Kill Hole."
Harrison Ford brings big-name clout to the movie in his role as Branch Rickey. Ford, who has 22 awards and 24 nominations under his belt, has been one of America's favorite leading men since he played the role of Han Solo in the "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" franchises. He started his career in 1966 performing bit parts in movies and one-off appearances in television shows, but that changed quickly. He also starred in several other hit films, including "Witness," "Blade Runner," "Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger" in the 1990s. He followed those up by playing Norm Spencer in "What Lies Beneath" in 2000 and Dr. Stonehill in the 2010 film "Extraordinary Measures."
In order to understand the racism that was rampant in our country during the 1940s and 1950s, everyone should put "42" (trailer here!) on their must-see list of movies. Jackie Robinson was a hero who helped spur on the Civil Rights Movement, and although he did have a human side and was far from perfect, he managed to show grace in the face of adversity.