Less a sports movie and more a tale about segregation, “42” is an emotional and well acted portrait of Hall of Fame player Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman, “The Kill Hole”) and his first two years in the MLB. Baseball fans will go crazy for this movie, while the rest of the audience will enjoy a well-acted and scripted portrait of the 1940s post World War. If you are a fan of the sport, or just a fan of Robinson, go see the movie. Otherwise, you might want to think it over.
Written and directed by Brian Helgeland, the story picks up right after World War II and we are introduced to a country in a period of both peace and war. The economy is booming and with it baseball, the military is returning home and the nation is moving into a time of peace and prosperity. With all this going on, Jim Crow laws are still heavy in force, segregating the different races and creating a nation that is separate but not equal.
Brooklyn Dodgers executive Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford, “Cowboys and Aliens”) is introduced to the story while discussing the idea of signing the first African-American baseball player. Currently there are minority leagues, and college baseball is interested, but the major leagues are made up of only white players. Rickey wants to capture the minority markets by giving them an African-American player so within the first couple of minutes it is decided that Robinson will be that player.
Met with much skepticism from his assistants and Robinson himself, Rickey moves forward and proves throughout the movie that one man can make a difference. As much as Robinson is an American hero, Rickey is the man that made all this change happens and equally deserved his place in the Hall of Fame. Rickey and all of his assistants do a fantastic job throughout the movie making this time period come alive, and a great job of showing how Robinson changed the minds of people that doubted his place in the League.
Boseman gave a phenomenal performance in the role of Robinson; no one else could have portrayed the hero better. Throughout the movie, Boseman expresses the appropriate amount of pride and carefree attitude, while always having a defensive and angry being just underneath the surface. The movie takes us through times where Robinson is attacked by teammates, coaches, fans, police and other players but continues to rise to the occasion.
The movie moves slowly at first, and Robinson seems to breeze through the minor leagues without many incidents of racial segregation, but picks up as he joins the Dodgers. With the club, Robinson goes against his own teammates as well as the opposing team, who go as far as to physically attack the athlete. From friend to foe, Robinson slowly turns heads though and proves he should be in the League.
The movie is somewhat repetitive in the fact that Robinson again and again faces the same kind of racial discrimination and segregation, and he continues to rise to the occasion and conquer the challenge. At points the movie feels slow, but it is an emotional and raw picture that pulls the viewer in. A highlight throughout the movie is the acting.
The supporting cast was phenomenal throughout the whole movie, from the racist teammates that were slowly won over to the offensive managers. This movie felt real and never over-the-top. The movie shows the early movement, which led to full integration, but it does a good job by just taking one season as a Dodger to show how he changed the league for better.
From beginning to end “42” succeeds on many levels, in particular acting and the ability to recreate the time period. The movie at times seems slow and the conflicts somewhat repetitive, but the great acting keeps the movie moving and provides a couple of both emotionally compelling and laugh-out-loud moments. Fans of the sport should see this movie, but if you do not care about this time period or what the American hero went through, you may be disappointed.