Directed by: Brian Helgeland
Written by: Brian Helgeland
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie, Christopher Meloni, Ryan Merriman, Lucas Black, Andre Holland, Alan Tudyk
42 is not necessarily a film about baseball or an appreciation of Jackie Robinson’s athletic talent, it’s really about courage. Not just the courage of Jackie Robinson, or Branch Rickey, but also the players of the team who help face the racist attitudes of the world they lived in.
Chadwick Boseman plays the iconic Jackie Robinson, a young baseball player from California who became the very first African-American baseball player to play in the Major Leagues. The man behind Jackie’s acquisition is the Brooklyn Dodgers executive, Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford). Rickey is smart enough to recognize that it will be good business to have Negro players in the League, and he personally chooses Jackie to be his test case. Though Rickey recognizes and respects the fact that Jackie stands up for himself when he’s confronted with racist insults or unfair treatment, he tells him up front that they canot afford to have Jackie react against any of the vile things he will be forced to endure. Jackie is against the idea until Rickey positions it that a man who has the guts to not fight back is braver than the man who does fight back.
Chadwick Boseman does an admirable job of playing Robinson, but Harrison Ford’s performance as Branch Rickey is one of the finest of his legendary career. More often than not we see Ford playing some kind of aloof jerk, but Rickey is warm, charming, and thoroughly likable. Ford will make you leave this movie wanting to know more about Rickey, who in real life was so well-respected that his nickname was “Mahatma” which is an Indian term that is roughly equivalent to our definition of saint.
The filmmakers do a decent job of showing the unfair treatment towards black people in the late ’40s, and sticking close to history, but their approach is a bit more safe than it could have been. That being said, 42 handles the issues of race in a better way than films like The Blind Side. Instead of focusing primarily on how admirable white people like the Tuohy family and Branch Rickey were, they also give us a taste of what it was like for Jackie Robinson and how his lot in life was extremely difficult. We’re understandably not given the full experience, but the taste is enough to sate most appetites.
Several Dodgers players did actually form a petition to prevent Robinson from joining the team, but most of them did change their stance once they see what Jackie is forced to put up with on a daily basis. There are plenty of opportunities to show character development in minor characters, and the filmmakers seize every chance they get.
Law & Order: SVU veteran Christopher Meloni briefly appears in the film as Leo Durocher, the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers when Jackie is first courted for the team. Though he doesn’t stay in the film for very long, he makes an impact on the film when Durocher kills the player’s petition to keep Robinson off the team.
Much to my surprise, one of my favorite actors, Alan Tudyk, makes an appearance in the film as Ben Chapman, the racist manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. It takes a talented actor to make you hate him, and Tudyk proves that he is a very talented actor indeed. His treatment of Jackie Robinson is nothing short of appalling, and the viewer should feel greatly offended.
I was very pleasantly impressed by how the film was shot and framed. The cinematography team certainly knows what they’re doing. After seeing how well this film was made, I’m interested to see some of the other projects that Brian Helgeland directed.
42 is a very solid film that gives us a taste of what Jackie Robinson was forced to go through in order to achieve his dreams, and is a decent feel-good film that would be a good choice for almost any viewer.