New movie ’42’ heightens awareness on Jackie Robinson Day

Jackie Robinson "42"

Actor Chadwick Boseman plays Jackie Robinson in the movie “42” directed by Brian Helgeland.

If you?re tuning into an MLB game today and aren?t terribly familiar with baseball and its customs, ?then you might be asking yourself,??Why are they all wearing the number 42??

It’s the number worn by one of baseball’s most important icons and today marks the 66th anniversary of Jackie Robinson?s debut as the first African American player in the modern era of Major League Baseball, now commemorated by every player wearing the number 42.

Today also marks the end of the first box office weekend of Brian Helgeland?s film ?42?, which steals not only bases but hearts too in this inspirational biopic about Robinson.

?42? tells the story of Robinson?s rise from the segregated minor leagues to starting in the World Series with the then-Brooklyn Dodgers. It covers a relatively short period of his life, but it covers it in detail. At the start of the film we?re presented with a smart and smarter-mouthed Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), an excellent base stealer and talented shortstop in the ?Negro Minor Leagues?. He?s likeable as a character, and only more so once we find out he?s been discharged from the army for refusing to sit in the back of an army bus.

This mettle will be put to the test when Dodgers manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) approaches Robinson with an offer to play with the Dodgers-affiliated Montreal Royals. Ford gives an immediately amusing performance as the gruff-voiced, bowtie-wearing manager, both a shrewd businessman and a devout Christian.

While Robinson?s story is inspiring and his struggles aplenty, his story is straightforward and his character remains unchanging. It?s hardly a surprise when not all of the Dodgers take kindly to his presence on their team, or when angry townspeople try to shout him off the field. It?s interesting to see how Robinson deals with the sudden onslaught of racism, sure, but the real driving curiosity of the film lies in Rickey?s motivation: why sign an African American in the first place at this time and place?

Ford?s performance is rock solid and his motivations ever-changing, acting in good foil to Robinson?s invariable drive in the face of deeply seated racism. Ford puts forth a fantastic blend of charisma and take-no-shit in his supporting role.

Alan Tudyk too gives a wickedly antagonist performance as the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies whose taunts toward Robinson on the plate had me increasingly wanting to throw myself at the screen in the same way we see Robinson?s colorful cast of teammates growing more and more frustrated and unable to sit by in this highly charged moment. Beware: the language at times is not pretty.

The baseball scenes, shot with beautiful color and detail, showcased the patience and attention the sport requires. Immersed right on the diamond with the players, we see catchers flashing signals in close-up and the scuff of Robinson?s heel against a base as if we?re right on the field with them. Audiences both on-screen and off will hold their breath as Robinson edges around bases and makes his steals in scenes characterized by tension. The film itself sticks very close to Robinson?s life and career, incorporating in documented quotes from real conversations, which will make enthusiasts happy.

While the film tends toward dialogue-heavy and boasts one-too-many heart-to-hearts between Robinson and Rickey in my opinion, it still delivers those big pop-up moments of explosive action to help punctuate the occasional patterns of slow the film falls into.

Helgeland hits on some key emotional points throughout the film, and perhaps the most poignant scene depicts a young child with his grandfather out to watch one of Robinson?s games. When his grandfather starts shouting racial slurs and abuse at Robinson on the field, the boy seems torn. When he realizes everyone is doing it, he joins in and perpetuates the hate without an awareness of what he?s even doing.

It?s this kind of attention to detail and quiet commentary put forth by Helgeland that strengthens the film and makes the achievements of both Robinson and Rickey all the more important.

?Maybe tomorrow we?ll all wear 42,? shortstop Pee Wee Reese says to Robinson before the start of Robinson?s first World Series game with the Brooklyn Dodgers, ?That way they can?t tell us apart.? This line pays homage to today?s tradition to honor Jackie Robinson?s life through the use of his jersey in the same way the film seeks to honor this important moment in history.

?42? is an all-around inspirational film with a strong cast of characters rounded out by some truly beautiful cinematography. If you don?t mind a movie with a slightly slower pace amidst the rollercoaster of superhero action movies that have been populating the box office of late, then ?42? hits a home run for all audiences.

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