‘42’ is the best baseball movie in ages

Chadwick Boseman is Jackie Robinson in '42'
Chadwick Boseman is Jackie Robinson in ’42’

In 1945, Branch Rickey (Ford) was the part-owner, club president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He was also a man on a mission. He wanted to break the “color barrier” in Major League Baseball.  He needed a Negro who was not just a great player, but one who could withstand the blistering, withering assault that would come from those who didn’t want to see this barrier broken.

He chose Jackie Robinson (Boseman) and history was made.

The film 42 is the story of this short period of the life of Jackie Robinson when he shattered a barrier that had been an unwritten rule since the 1880s that Negros were not allowed to play in the majors.

42, written and directed by Brian Helgeland, begins in Rickey’s office in Brooklyn as he is looking over players who might be the right one for him to select.  He eventually sends someone to bring Jackie back to Brooklyn to meet with him, a famous interview that the film captures quite well in what is reported to have actually taken place.  Rickey signs Robinson to a contract to play at the club’s Triple-A franchise in Montreal.

Harrison Ford and T.R. Knight in '42'
Harrison Ford and T.R. Knight in ’42’

Robinson marries his sweetheart Rachel (Beharie) and she accompanies him to his first spring training.  It is difficult as even some of the Brooklyn players want nothing to do with Robinson.  Wendell Smith (Holland), a reporter who was involved in choosing Robinson (something history has long short-changed him of credit for doing), was hired by Rickey to chronicle Robinson’s effort to make the majors.

A year later, Robinson is back at spring training, this time with the knowledge that it is very likely Rickey will be moving him to the big league club before the season begins.  Some of the players on the Dodgers are unhappy with this and start a petition, saying they won’t play with Robinson.  The club’s manager, Leo Durocher (Christopher Meloni) puts a fast stop to that with a famous speech to the players that Meloni delivers very well.

This is fine filmmaking.  Helgeland doesn’t follow the history of events perfectly and what is changed is actually changed to inject drama into the story and present some of the real people involved in this in the most favorable light.  Why Leo Durocher was suspended for a year is far less important than what he did and said to ensure that the majority of the club’s players would accept Jackie Robinson as one of their own.

The performances are strong, particularly Chadwick Boseman in the title role, and Harrison Ford who is wonderful in every moment he has on-screen.  Kudos must also go to Alan Tudyk for portraying an extremely racist individual who taunted Robinson mercilessly.

Unlike Movie 43, for which there were at least 43 reasons not to go, there are at a minimum, 42 good reasons to go and see 42.

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