You don’t have to be a baseball fan or even baseball knowledgeable to appreciate the terrific storytelling of “42.” Written and directed by Brian Helgeland, “42” tells how Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to break Major League baseball’s color barrier and the challenges he faced in doing so on and off the field.
It would have been very easy to turn “42” into a reverential bio-flick, but Helgeland and his cast are aiming for something more ambitious. We feel like we can really see into the characters’ pyches…warts and all. Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, the Dodgers General Manager, turn in wonderful, authentically nuanced performances. Boseman, who bears a strong resemblance to Robinson, shows the emotional toll it took on him to hear the racial taunts and epithets and still turn the other cheek. After one especially nasty episode, his breakdown underneath the Dodgers’ dugout is heart-breaking and feels very real. Ford gives probably the best performance of his career as the tough-minded GM/businessman who truly believes breaking the color barrier is good for the game he loves, the country…and good for business.
“42” is aided tremendously by a terrific supporting cast, most especially by Christopher Meloni as Leo Durocher, the Dodgers’ hard-charging manager; Nicole Beharie as Robinson’s elegantly graceful wife, Rachel; and Alan Tudyk as the racist-baiting Phillies manager, Ben Chapman. Also very good are Lucas Black and Hamish Linklater as Robinson’s teammates Pee Wee Reese and Ralph Branca respectively, who lead the way in accepting Robinson as just another ballplayer.
Helgeland has done a great job in portraying the prejudices of the late 1940s. The racial taunts make you queasy and are really hard to hear. The ballparks and cities feel quite authentic to the times. The baseball sequences are very realistic, too. Particularly interesting is the scene in which the Dodgers turn Robinson from a second baseman to a first baseman. The movie’s one negative is the music–it is so over the top as to be intrusive.
Jackie Robinson died at a fairly young age of 53. It makes one wonder what affect the stress of “holding it in” all those years had on him. One can only imagine. “42” provides life lessons for all of us while entertaining at the same time. This is one time that the action on the screen is more compelling than the action on the baseball diamond.
4 nuggets out of 4