Sports holds in its annals some of the most inspiring events in human history. The story of Jackie Robinson stands on its own as a story of immense courage, and illustrates how one person truly can make a change, and see that change through much tribulation.
Brian Helgeland (A Knights Tale) does not have a Directorial resume to stand up to any big-time Hollywood Director, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Taking on a project like this, and telling the story of such an important individual is, in my opinion, a gutsy move. But Helgeland handled it well. He created what may very well be the best picture of the year so far. The story follows, of course, Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) who plays baseball in the negro leagues. He is recruited by Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), an executive for the Brooklyn Dodgers, to try out for the Montreal Royals, a farm team to the Brooklyn Dodgers. He makes the team and is eventually picked up by the Dodgers after he proves himself. Along the way, Robinson proposes to his girlfriend, Rachel (Nicole Beharie) who accepts. Robinson faces immense opposition as he is the only colored player in a league of white men. Branch sticks with his guy, offering encouragement when needed. Eventually, Robinson comes to gain the respect of his teammates, and is key to their clinching the National League Pennant for the 1947 season.
I could name a few sports films that I like better than this, but rest assured that “42” deserves some respect. Harrison Ford is on top of his game (no pun intended) in his role as Branch Rickey. He has a few really key scenes in the film that are crucial to the growth of Robinson in becoming the player he was. Boseman, who has done a lot of work in television, and is a relatively unknown actor was wonderful in his role as Jackie Robinson. He really embraced what Robinson was all about. The emotion that he displays on screen, especially when he was being harassed by Manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) of the Philadelphia Phillies was gripping. Robinson was not only superhuman in the way that he played the game, but he was superhuman in how he handled the opposition he faced in becoming a part of the game. Beharie is perfect in the role of Rachel Robinson. She didn’t take the role over the top, which I feel like she easily could have done, given the circumstances her character is put in. She is a solid support system for her husband, who looks to her regularly for support. Andre Holland who plays Wendell Smith, a reporter out of Detroit plays a crucial role as well. He asks Robinson at one point if he knows why he has to sit in the stands with his typewriter on his lap. He states that it is because he is not allowed in the press box because of the color of his skin, and reiterates to Robinson that he is fighting for a lot more than just himself.
I found it interesting that the number 42 is the only number ever to be retired in Major League Baseball. Robinson deserves the recognition that he has been given. He changed the game of baseball, and helped propel forward equality amongst human beings, a battle that is still being fought today. This was a wonderful film that should not be missed, whether you are a fan of baseball or not. Well done.
– David B. Harrington