Sunday, April 14, 2013

42 - Movie Review

If you don't know who Jackie Robinson is, then you really need to brush up on your American history as it pertains to civil rights. 42 stars Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford and is based on the real life story of the courageous and talented individual who broke Major League Baseball's long standing color barrier and the efforts of Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey to give him the opportunity.

The story begins with Mr. Rickey deciding it is time to take action on an idea that has been in the back of his mind for years, but when he brings up the idea of racially integrating the national pastime, he is met with nothing but anger and fear over such an outrageous notion. Unphased by an across the board response, the aging businessman begins scouring the far corners of the country for an African American player that has the ability to succeed at the major league level as well as a man that can handle the hate and fear that will follow his every footstep.

That man turns out to be a young, brash ballplayer named Jackie Robinson who has been putting up big numbers in the Negro League with the Kansas City Monarchs. During a meeting between the two men, Mr. Rickey tasks the wide eyed athlete with not only having the courage to be the best player on the field, but to have the strength of mind and heart not to fight back at the inevitable adversity he will face every single day from the public, the media, opposing players, and even his own teammates. Jackie promises to follow this instruction although still unaware of just how historic of an agreement he has just made.

With his woman by his side (Nicole Beharie), an owner backing him up, and a reporter named Wendell Smith (Andre Holland) hired to help guide him and keep him in line, Jackie embarks on a journey that will test not only himself, but every person who sees him play and even a country resistant to the change he is creating. Through all of it, he is an All Star both on and off the field and while he helps to win games on the field, he is also winning over those who truly take the time to get to know him. Even with continued opposition to the radical idea of having a colored man in a Major League Baseball uniform, the owner and the player do their best to accomplish what they ultimately set out to do. Win.

If you are a fan of baseball, you will definitely enjoy this movie as I have never watched the action of playing a baseball game portrayed on screen so beautifully before. If you are a fan of history, you will also find a lot to like about a movie that digs deep into one of the most important events in our country's history. Even if neither of these topics is of particular interest to you, but you love a good movie that features top notch actors, then yes, you will also have a great time watching 42 as writer/director Brian Helgeland has crafted a fine piece of art that is dramatic without being heavy handed and inspirational without coming off overly sappy or cheesy.

A feature film about the life of Jackie Robinson is very important to get right and I feel that with 42, the audience is rewarded with a movie that will educate, entertain, and inspire all at the same time. The imagery and colors are bold while still managing to feel like they are portraying something that happened nearly 70 years ago. Yes, CGI was used liberally as most of the old stadiums from back then no longer exist, but it is all done so well, you never even notice.

Chadwick Boseman does an admirable job portraying both the internal and external struggles of a ballplayer who is going against what many see as sacred ground, but it is Harrison Ford as the gruff and ornery Branch Rickey that really makes this movie tick. I enjoyed seeing him play this type of role more than I thought I would.

I have to say, there was a part of me that didn't want to see Han Solo playing an old man (seeing him fumble around in the last Indiana Jones was bad enough), but Ford has a very unique ability to own a character to the point where he makes you forget he has played so many iconic roles over the years and you just get lost in who he is at the moment.

42 should instantly fall into the category of greatest baseball movies as it not only shows an essential piece of the game's history, but does a great job of entertaining as well. Expertly crafted with strong acting performances throughout (Christopher Meloni as Leo Durocher and Nicole Beharie as Rachel Robinson are especially good), this movie steps up to the plate and hits a home run just like Jackie did during his historic rookie season that changed baseball forever.

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