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The heroic story of the man whose actions as a pioneer forever changed the landscape of the National Pastime gets the big-screen treatment in the long-awaited Jackie Robinson-biopic, 42.
Robinson, who broke the color barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers and went on to become the first Black man inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame, was an educated former Army officer who was tasked with the tremendous responsibility of ushering in baseball’s modern era.
The film, which covers the two-year period of 1945-47, begins with Dodgers’ GM, Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) who the film presents not as a race-loving martyr but a shrewd businessman. Recognizing the amount of money to be made by capturing the then Negro market and their voracious fans, Rickey also understood that there were some tremendously talented Black players that were barred from Major League Baseball because of the color of their skin.
All of the elements of the story are there and newcomer Chadwick Boseman gives a wonderful three-dimensional portrayal of the proud but tortured superstar who was given an opportunity to play but also had to endure the taunts and racists comments from fans in the stands, the opposing teams as well as his own teammates.
Brian Helgeland’s (L.A. Confidential, Mystic River, A Knight’s Tale) script overcomes its initial shortcomings of simply dropping the audience into his story, sometimes with awkward transitions by pulling the curtains back to reveal Robinson’s joy and overwhelming pain.
Robinson’s pride and joy is his beautiful wife, Rachel played lovingly by Nicole Beharie. Serving as Robinson’s rock and constant support, she and Boseman sparkle in their scenes together as she constantly encourages her husband through his titanic battle to make history. The film also smartly employs a useful device giving Robinson another constant companion, sportswriter Wendell Smith (Andre Holland) who suffers the brunt of racism with him and also in his own way as both men fight against oppression. Sadly, very little is shared about his own struggle and his character isn’t given much to do other than chauffeur Robinson around.
As Rickey, Ford initially seems out of place but slowly gains his footing giving a solid performance as the man whose vision of integration is realized. While Helgeland’s script initially feels rushed as he is trying to get the audience to 1947, once there the film settles down and shows the many slights and indignities that Robinson endures to gain the respect of the public and his own team.
Helgeland, whose past films have created indelible moments, doesn’t quite rise up to the task with this story. He does succeed in creating a crowd-pleasing, rousing tribute to the only man in baseball history to have his number retired by the league – which pays tribute once a year with players donning Robinson’s 42. While not a home run, nevertheless the film gives the audience a thrill!