A new baseball season has just begun. When we look out onto a ball field today we see a group of baseball players. There was a time; however, when people saw black players and white players. It’s almost hard to imagine and it is certainly great that kids today don’t look at ball players like that. When Jackie Robinson first came to a major league baseball field playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 that IS how he was viewed. The man took abuse both on and off the field, but by being a great ball player and not letting these things distract him, he helped pave the way for members of all races to join him. Everything he had to endure as a first year professional is told in the new movie, “42”.
The man behind Jackie Robinson’s breakthrough into the world of major league baseball was the Dodgers owner, Branch Rickey, played brilliantly by Harrison Ford. Rickey knew this was the future of baseball and that it was only a matter of time before all races would be sharing a baseball field together. He also wisely chose Jackie Robinson, played in the movie equally brilliantly by Chadwick Boseman, Not only did he know Jackie was a great ball player who could help him one day win a World Series, but that Jackie was a man of great character who could face up to all the obstacles he was bound to encounter. At one point in the movie, Robinson thinks Rickey only wants him there because he thinks he wants a black man who won’t fight back. Rickey then makes it clear he is looking for a player who has the guts not to fight back.
At the beginning of “42” a title comes up stating the movie is based on a true story so some elements of the movie can be fictionalized; one part that was not and that really showed how hard it was for Robinson, was how the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk), treated him. Chapman would step out of the dugout and use the N-word frequently. Robinson could not react. Later in the movie Jackie Robinson appears humbled anytime someone refers to him as a hero, but he surely was.
Adapting this portion of Jackie Robinson’s life into a screenplay could not have been an easy task, but Academy Award winning screenwriter Brian Helgeland molded a solid story into what should become one of the best baseball movies ever!. He does a great job directing “42” too. All the baseball scenes, even the minor league games, are both gripping and tension-filled. Robinson was a tremendous base stealer, and Chadwick Boseman captures all of Jackie Robertson’s mannerisms, like when he would rub dirt on his hands before going to bat and twitching his fingers when he would take a lead off a base as if he might take off any minute; all habits that would unnerve pitchers.
The civil rights aspect of the movie can be overwhelming at times because it is present in almost every scene. At one time Jackie and his wife are bumped off a flight to help “lighten the plane”, only to see their seats given away to a white couple. This may not have really happened since a movie like this will take a creative liberty here and there, but that’s not to suggest that African Americans have similar experiences during that time. They certainly saw many rest rooms that said, “Whites Only” on the door. It’s almost hard to believe it was like that less than 60 years ago.
It is way too early to be discussing the Oscars, but Harrison Ford gives a performance that surely should be recognized next year when nominations are announced. Not only does he completely embody the old Dodgers owner, he brings tremendous passion to this character. This was a man who loved the game of baseball and Ford is so magnificent that we feel his passion as well. The scenes between Rickey and Robinson sometimes border on magical. There was some great intensity there. In fact, all the actors in “42” do a great job portraying these real life people, right down to John C. McGinley’s portrayal of baseball announcer Red Barber.
In order to have a great baseball movie you had better know how to photograph it and Don Burgess does a top notch job as the movie’s cinematographer. In time, “42” should find itself alongside other great baseball movies like “The Natural” and “Field of Dreams”. This is a movie the whole family can enjoy, but, keep in mind “42” is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including language, so use your best judgment before taking younger children to see the movie.