The real-life story of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier is a tale of such historical and athletic magnitude that any movie representation would have a tumultuous task capturing its impact accurately. In “42,” Warner Brothers hits it out of the park with a portrayal of the famed baseball player that is honest, entertaining and captivating.
The plot follows the story of Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), a baseball player who, in the 1940s, became the first African-American to join the major leagues. The film begins with Jackie as a young shortstop in the African-American baseball organization known as the “Negro Leagues.” Shortly after, Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, decides to seek out an African-American player for his team for the upcoming season. Rickey finds Robinson and signs him up to the Montreal farm team affiliate, where he shines as an undisputed all-star baseball player. Later, Robinson moves up to the big leagues to break the color barrier and to help the Dodgers on their quest to make the pennant.
Boseman gives an honest performance that was convincing enough to garner the praise of the actual wife of Jackie Robinson, Rachel Robinson. The portrayal of his character’s determination to succeed in baseball and in breaking down racial constructs is both inspiring and captivating. Ford is equally breathtaking in his role, and though his character claims to not have hired Robinson to take a stance on racial equality, he still comes off as admirable. He even claims, “There is only one color that I am concerned with, green.” Despite this self-interest, Ford’s character still comes off as heroic and contributes to the inspirational element of the film.
The screenplay, by Brian Helgeland, represents the time period right down to the finest of details. It expertly captures the impact that Robinson had not only on baseball, but also on America as a whole. As Robinson breaks into baseball, side characters give contrasting reactions to his rise to stardom. In one pivotal scene, a man approaches Robinson in what appears to be a racially charged rage when, in fact, the man reacts with support. The moment helps Robinson, as well as audiences, see that his actions do more than just provoke the antagonistic, pro-segregation fans.
The main detriment of the film’s script is its lack of a backstory about the life of Robinson before baseball. Aside from a select few scant remarks about early experiences, little is uncovered about Robinson that isn’t about his already widely known baseball career and his impact on racial equality. This limits the plot and the depth of the storytelling.
The directing, also by Helgeland, places an equal emphasis on the historical aspects as well as the sports story. By not giving into the temptation of making a trite underdog film, Helgeland guides “42” to appeal to a wide variety of cinematic audiences. People interested in the traditional biography as well as in the typical baseball movie will find common ground and mutually enjoy the film.
By the end of “42,” audiences will have experienced a story of true beauty and depth that could easily leave one inspired. In fact, the general high quality of the film may even inspire audiences to want to see it again.
Overall Rating: 3 and a Half Stars
Director Brian Helgeland delivers a strong biopic of famous baseball player, Jackie Robinson.