By Jon Gallagher
42 (WB, 2013) Director: Brian Helgeland. Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie, Christopher Meloni, Ryan Merriman, and Lucas Black. Color, 128 minutes.
The movie 42 is one that not only makes me proud to be a baseball fan, but also proud to be a Dodger fan, even though the events take place long before I was born. It’s the story of how Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier changing the world of baseball as well as the United States forever.
Before getting into the movie itself, I want to say that even though this is the story of Robinson, and it’s a true story, I’m sure that the filmmakers took some liberties with what really happened. Then again, with the bigotry that was alive and well during this time period, I’m wondering if they were able to really hint at how badly blacks were mistreated during that era.
The movie begins with Dodger executive Branch Rickey (Ford) telling two subordinates that he intends to bring a black player to the major leagues. He has no idea who he will bring and the trio begins a search of the Negro Leagues. Roy Campanella is ruled out and so is Satchel Paige. They settle on Robinson (Boseman) who is playing for the Kansas City Monarchs.
They bring Jackie to Brooklyn to tell him the news. Rickey baits him several times, trying to get a rise out of him and see a flash of Robinson’s famous temper. He’s just trying to prepare him for what’s ahead.
Jackie plays for Montreal in 1946 in his only minor league season. We get a glimpse of how he’ll be treated once he hits the major leagues, and the movie doesn’t waste a lot of time on this, although it’s a very important part. More time is spent showing how the fans and players treat him during spring training in Florida than north of the border in Canada. In one scene, a cop even tries to arrest Jackie on the field for playing “a white man’s game.”
In 1947, when Jackie makes his big league debut, he’s not treated well, even by his own teammates who get up a petition to keep him off the team. Rickey will have none of it, and trades one of the detractors, just to create an atmosphere of teamwork. Once the players who surround Jackie get to know him and see the absolutely deplorable attitudes towards him, they slowly come around to his side and embrace him as a teammate.
If this movie isn’t nominated for several Academy Awards, there needs to be a federal investigation. Boseman is powerful in his portrayal of Robinson, allowing his frustration and anger to show just once. Still, we can feel the tension on the screen through his facial expressions and body language. It’s a performance that’s awesome and inspiring.
Ford should just clear a spot on his mantle for what should be a Best Supporting Actor statue. In the trailers, I didn’t even realize it was him playing the role of Rickey, and in the movie, he’s even better.
Beharie, Meloni, and Black are tremendous as well as Jackie’s wife, Manager Leo Durocher, and Pee Wee Reese respectively. In real life, Reese was a little thick-headed, so he could have played things a little more on the “dumb” side, but that might have added too much of a comic touch, so I won’t complain. In real life, Reese heard about a plot to shoot Jackie, so in all seriousness, he suggested the whole team wear the number 42 so they’d all look the same. It’s done a little differently in the movie, but it’s well done.
A special mention has to be made of John C. McGinley who plays Red Barber, the Dodgers’ announcer. Obviously a lot of research went into the making of this film, and McGinley had to have listened to hours of Barber for this relatively minor role. He was superb. He used many of Barber’s catchphrases that some of the old guys (like me) in the audience would fondly chuckle at (“This game is tighter than a new pair of shoes on a rainy day!”).
Also to be commended was the set design. If I didn’t know that Ebbets Field and Crosley Field had been torn down, I’d swear the movie was filmed there. As I listened to the Dodger game on the radio, Charley Steiner also made mention of the detail used in recreating the stadiums.
I should also caution parents that the “n” word is used liberally throughout the movie. If your kids have never heard that word before, then it might be a good time to have a little discussion with them before you take them to see this one.
Of course I’m giving this my highest rating of A++. It’s one that I’ll see if it comes to my little town’s theater, and I’ll buy it when it’s released on DVD. I can’t wait to see the deleted scenes. It’s a two hour and eight minute movie that I actually wish had been longer.