Pretty much being the worst baseball fan ever, the fiancee and I finally had an opportunity to see "42" this evening. I went in to the film with very high expectations and am pleased to say that they were all either met or exceeded.
For most baseball fans, the story is familiar. Jackie Robinson was selected by Branch Rickey of the Dodgers to become the first African-American to play Major League Baseball in the modern era. Jackie spends a year in the International League in Montreal proving himself as a big league quality ballplayer and learning to handle what society, still firmly entrenched in Jim Crow, could throw at him.
Robinson excels and Rickey has him join the Brooklyn Dodgers the following year. Some teammates have issues with his color, as do many opponents who act in a truly evil way. Other teammates put themselves on the line to prove that Jackie was just as good as they, notably Pee Wee Reese. Robinson excels, brings the Dodgers to dynasty status as a team and eventually makes the Hall of Fame.
Where the film truly excels is getting people who couldn't care less about baseball to care about this man and his story.
Written by Brian Helgeland, writer of such films as "LA Confidential" and "Mystic River," the film treads the fine line when adapting a true story for the screen and does so with success. The characters are well-rounded and while a majority of the audience cares for Jackie before the film begins, as it progresses, finds itself caring just as much for Branch Rickey, Rachel Robinson, and Pee Wee Reese as they do for Jackie. The script manages to lighten what could be a very intense film with humor and manages to stay true to the story.
Yes, there were some choices that seemed a little too 'Hollywood,'and that is to be expected in a major studio release, but overall the film was amazingly accurate, even down to the smallest detail of the ballparks and uniforms. To say I was impressed would be an understatement.
"42" contained some tour de force performances that Oscar may well be looking at when awards season rolls around. Nicole Beharie turned in a powerful piece as Jackie's wife, Rachel. Often we forget that although Jackie was the face of integration, Rachel was behind the scenes, giving Jackie the support he needed to pursue his role in American history and Beharie embraced that.
In addition, Harrison Ford embraced his inner "angry old man" as Branch Rickey and delivered a phenomenal performance. One moment vehemently protective of Jackie, the next quietly contemplative about the wheels he had set in motion. Rickey had to wear many hats in his efforts to bring Jackie to the big leagues: drill sergeant, protector and counselor, amongst others and Ford steals the show regardless of what hat he was wearing.
Of course, who could forget Chadwick Boseman as Jackie? He had heart, a sense of humor, but above it all, a sense of humanity. Jackie wasn't a perfect man, but, as the quote goes, he had "the courage to not fight back." He showed the dignity of Jackie, getting back up after being spiked by Enos Slaughter and getting his revenge by winning the ballgame. It wasn't easy, but Boseman embraced this American hero and legend of baseball and comes away as absolutely believable.
This could not have been an easy film to make; the things that Alan Tudyk as the racist Phillies manager, Ben Chapman had to say would have been enough to make anyone feel awkward for hours and days on end. In fact, my fiancee wondered what it felt like to collect a paycheck for essentially shouting some of the most awful racial epithets.
I wonder how the villains in this tale felt. The most prominent are dead now, many for years, and in essence, can't defend their actions. Not that there is much to defend, I suppose. History is a cruel mistress and when dealing with a true story, the villains tend to be self-made. Perhaps, later in life they realized their evil ways and renounced them and I would like to believe that. But honestly, we just don't know, and now, be it good or bad, the images we left of them are those created in "42."
"42" was powerful. It reminds us of how fortunate we are that we happen to be on the right side of history, at least for this particular cause, and how one man can bring a change. There's a reason that Martin Luther King worked together with Jackie to bring about civil rights and helped enact a huge shift in society. The film offers us a heartfelt glimpse into what it took for one rock to cause and avalanche. It was obviously a labor of love for everyone involved, from actors to set designers to costume researchers and their efforts did not go unnoticed. "42" gets my highest approval and I cannot wait to add it to my personal film collection, to remind us of what one man can do.