‘42’: The world that shaped legend Jackie Robinson

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By Fred Allen

That iconic baseball number ‘42’ can belong only to Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to break the color barrier in major-league baseball. This would lead to cracking that wall in other sports.

This film demonstrates and makes us wince at some of the terms used to refer to Mr. Robinson. Although Jackie Robinson is the focus of this film, and has all the hokum and hoopla associated with a feel-good story like this, “42” tells the whole story. We see the pressures exerted upon Branch Rickey to send Robinson packing. At times it is a dangerous story.

“42” spends no time getting syrupy as the details of how the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) guided Jackie Robinson’s (Chadwick Bozeman) integration into baseball. When Jackie questions his choice, Rickey responds that he needs a man with enough guts not to fight when racial slurs and insults are hurled at him. Robinson replies that he has the guts and the bat to accomplish that. Surrounded by a cadre of experienced actors, it would be easy for a relative newcomer like Bozeman to get lost and for the plotline to become mushy and melodramatic. Television veteran and playwright Bozeman holds his own with an iron will and stone face.

This story, beginning in 1945 is also about Branch Rickey. Even though he explains why he has chosen to break the color line in American sports, it is still a nebulous subject that might best be left unexplained. If there is a fault here, it is Ford’s “aw gosh” expressions and movements that makes it appear that he is overacting instead of being this advocate of civil rights. The actors in minor roles are always strong, making this movie an even more important message. Christopher Meloni is manager Leo Durocher who lets a personal affair cause him to leave the Dodgers in a lurch. Lucas Black is quietly forceful as Louisvillian Pee Wee Reese who befriends Robinson. Many famous baseball players, both friendly and unfriendly toward Robinson, are portrayed, warts and all, in this film. A huge cast with speaking parts, including a brief appearance by Happy Chandler (Peter Mackenzie) as Baseball Commissioner. The film ends with the Dodgers winning the World Series, but all is not joy and happiness. There are still struggles ahead. After all, this is the late 1940s. The Civil Rights Movement as we know it still has 20 years to foment.

 “42” is carefully balanced among the story of Robinson, segregation, and baseball. With the drama, there is needed humor, especially the way Ford handles the volatile characters around him. There is no doubt that the audience is rooting for Robinson to succeed. There was deserved applause in the theater as the closing credits rolled.

Family Rating: PG-13 so that the younger children will have someone to explain the racial language. Nothing else to offend, but this is enough. Also featuring Nicole Beharie, Alan Tudyk, John C. McGinley, Max Gail, and James Pickens Jr. Written and directed by Brian Helgeland. Appropriate music by Mark Isham. (2 hr. 8 min.)

The film finds balance between the story of Robinson, baseball and segregation. It succeeds in depicting all three aspects to bring a powerful, heartwarming, humorous film.

Harrison Ford does an amazing job portraying his character with his no-nonsense humorous attitude. He has a good chance of grabbing an academy award nomination for this role. This is one of those movies that takes you for an emotional thrill ride. You feel for  Robinson. You want him to win. And you rejoice when he does. So sit back and let the film drag you in; it’s worth your time.