Historical bio-pics seem to be one of the big trends of this day and age with films like ‘J. Edgar‘ and ‘Lincoln‘ coming out every year. Now comes a film based on the life of the first African American baseball player to play for a major league baseball team, Jackie Robinson. This film is called ’42,’ after the number on Robinson’s baseball uniform. It’s doubtful that audiences were clamoring for a Jackie Robinson movie, as one from 1950 already exists, entitled ‘The Jackie Robinson Story.’ This is a movie that wasn’t wanted, rather it was in a way what was needed to save 2013 from being a marathon of mediocrity. Sure there were movies so far this year that were better than average, (‘Oz: The Great and Powerful‘ and ‘The Croods‘ first come to mind) but there was nothing to me that I have loved and made me go gaga over so far. That is until I saw this movie. Sure it’s predictable and somewhat formulaic, but ’42’ is the first movie of 2013 that I have truly fallen head over heals for.
Jackie Robinson was born and grew up in a time of harsh racism and discrimination. Baseball leagues were separated by skin colors, but times were changing. The team executive for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey, was ready for change. Over the course of a couple of years, Rickey finally helps to break the color barrier in professional baseball and sign Robinson to play on the Dodgers. Many were not too pleased with this decision, as players tried to sign petitions, citizens were backlashing at Rickey, and even Phillies coach Ben Chapman was constantly insulting Robinson on the field despite being the manager for the worst team in the league back then. Still though, Robinson brings his courage to the game and gives the world something that they’ll never forget seeing.
Prior to seeing this movie, I looked up Chadwick Boseman on IMDB to see what else he has been in just in case I actually knew him from another movie. Sure enough, I didn’t. His work is mostly in television with a couple of movie roles here and there. Basically this is his first major role in a movie, and his time to shine so to speak. Let me tell you, if Hollywood falls in love with this actor as I did in his performance as Robinson, then this is going to be somebody who makes it big in movies quite soon in the future. Boseman brings an emotional, deep, and incredible performance as Robinson. Racism is an awful thing, so when the audience is shown Robinson getting internally angry because he can’t do a thing to backlash against the harsh slurs people are spewing, we’re able to fully sympathize with him and root for him in the end. This is a performance I will look back on at the end of the year and remember as the first performance of the year that wowed me. I have a very strong feeling that he will be the next Denzel Washington of sorts. Yeah, he’s THAT good.
As for Harrison Ford, this might well be the best performance he’s turned in in quite a long time. He brought the power, the humor, and the emotion that would be had in a character like Branch Rickey. Now I don’t know if this was an accurate performance of Rickey, but I believed Ford in the role and saw a performance that was more than an old ‘Indiana Jones’ acting in a baseball drama. Is it an Oscar worthy performance? Compared to what else I’ve seen this year, it might as well be. Ford was great in the movie. In fact, everyone in the cast was great. ‘Law & Order’s’ Christopher Meloni had a great small role as the original Dodgers manager Leo Durocher, as well as Alan Tudyk from ‘Dodgeball’ and ‘Tucker & Dale vs. Evil,’ whose sinister role as Phillies coach Ben Chapman had me hating my home team for being so cruel to Robinson. Speaking of cruelty, this movie is not short on offending people in the best way possible.
This might not matter to many, but I found it rather important in my movie going experience with this film. I had the pleasure of seeing this movie with an audience that was mostly African American. Listening to their reactions throughout the movie, from the harshest moments to the most uplifting moments, really added something for me with this movie. This film in general is a true crowd pleaser, as well as a shocker when it comes to the racism. If the attitude of the racism in ‘The Help‘ was mixed with the countless uses of the n-word in ‘Django Unchained,’ then that would be about equivalent to the amount of racism found in this movie. When that horrid word is uttered, I think everyone in my theater including myself cringed in anger and disgust because of how harshly it’s used in the movie. There’s one painful scene in the movie involving a white father and son at a baseball game that is sad and painful to watch. It might have been the most powerful scene in the movie for me. This is an important movie overall to see mainly because of the racial undertones shown throughout the movie, and for that alone could and should be shown in schools for Black History Month every year.
’42’ was one of the last movies I expected to fall head over heels for this year, and yet it happened. I was lucky enough to see this movie with my grandfather who lived in Brooklyn during the era of Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and even Jackie Robinson. He remembered it all clearly, he told me after the movie. Seeing it on the big screen, especially some of the landmark locations that were in Brooklyn in the 40s, literally brought him back to his childhood in Brooklyn and made him experience history once more, which he loved doing. I loved being there with him, as well as my father, to share the experience. The movie is occasionally funny, but for the most part it is a serious racial baseball drama. The discrimination towards the African Americans in the movie is sometimes hard to watch, but it works.
The drama that Jackie Robinson had to go through while playing with the Dodgers felt real and created a powerful emotional response in my theater experience. The chemistry between Boseman and Ford is great when they share scenes together. I’m not sure how many people will agree with me on this film, but for those who enjoyed movies like ‘The Help,’ I have a feeling they’ll really enjoy this. Pee Wee Reese says to Jackie Robinson at the end of the trailer for the movie “Maybe tomorrow we’ll all wear 42.” I’m not sure if we’ll be wearing the number 42 on our backs, but it surely is a number that will not be forgotten anytime soon, thanks to this movie, and the legend who inspired it, Jackie Robinson.