“Jackie Robinson. A black man in white baseball.”
Robinson’s tale is the most important sports event in history. Unfortunately, as I was listening to people talk about “42,” the biographical film about the first black Major League Baseball player, many asked who Robinson actually was. Hopefully, this film will magnify this magnificent tale.
“42,” directed by Brian Helgeland, based off of Robinson’s uniform number, easily falls into the same category of films like “Rudy” and “Remember the Titans.” Branch Rickie (Harrison Ford), team executive of the Brooklyn Dodgers, seeks to break the color barrier, one of baseball’s unwritten rules since the 1880s. He signs Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), a quick-tempered shortstop in the Negro Leagues, to the Dodgers’ international affiliate. Robinson’s talent shines, and he is promoted to the big leagues where he faces the brutal racism polluting Major League Baseball (the “N” word is prevalent in the film). But Robinson surprises everyone and excels in the big leagues, helping the Dodgers win the 1947 National League pennant.
The performances in the film are mixed, but Boseman stands out. He looks identical to Robinson, and his smile easily conveys the emotions Robinson had to have been feeling when he was signed to play white baseball. Ford’s performance is good but not great. His accent seems forced, and his Clint Eastwood-like grittiness doesn’t work as well as it should. Nevertheless, Ford conveys the confidence Rickie had in Robinson and the anger with those who did not believe in him.
A few historical absences hold “42” from being a flawless film. Robinson was a devout Christian, whose faith impacted him on and off the field. This is never shown in the movie. Rickie, who never attended baseball games on Sunday, believed he was on a mission from God when he signed Robinson. His religion is briefly mentioned. Expanding both men’s religious convictions could have easily benefited the film’s already gripping narrative. Instead, Robinson and Rickie’s intentions come off as a bit shallow. It seems Rickie signed Robinson just because, well, he was black. That’s all. Also, Rickie eventually drafted Roberto Clemente, the first Afro-Hispanic player, but this is never mentioned in the film. It’s also never said when or how Robinson died. I had to rely on Wikipedia for that information.
Overall, “42” is a gripping, powerful tale of one of the greatest sports stories in history that is easily one of the better sports films. Though it lacks some historical substance, it is still an inspiring movie, much like “Rudy” and “Remember the Titans.” Jackie Robinson is an athlete that anyone can stand up and cheer for. He should be celebrated for generations and generations to come.