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Jackie Robinson – Number 42 April 10, 2013

Posted by Alichat in Life, Movies.
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42 PosterI don’t know much about Jackie Robinson.  Granted, I don’t follow baseball, so I don’t know much about any well known players in the sport, unless it is somewhat scandalous.  Pete Rose, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, etc.  But I do know that Jackie Robinson was the first black man to play Major League baseball, ending the racial segregation that had been in place for over 60 years.  So I wanted to see 42, the Brian Helgeland directed film coming to theatres this Friday about Jackie Robinson and his path to the major leagues.  Tuesday night, I sat in a packed theatre with my friend Sandy and the saltiest popcorn I’ve ever consumed at a theatre (seriously Regal Cinemas….are you trying to kill me??  I am not a country ham!)

The film is excellent!  42 covers the period from 1945 to 1947.  Robinson (Chadwick Boseman,) was playing for the Monarchs in the Negro League.  In 1945, Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford,) the General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, decides that it’s time to bring some new talent up in the ranks, and that talent should be a black player.  Besides, as he said, it’s not against the law, it’s just an unwritten rule.  And money isn’t black and white, it’s green.  After some initial protests from his office, Rickey sets out to find the best player who can not only play great baseball, but also handle the firestorm that will be laid at his doorstep.  Jack Roosevelt Robinson ends up being that player.  And we see in the film his introduction to Rickey, marriage to wife Rachel, the racial discord upon his addition to the minor league Montreal Royals, and ending after his first season on the Brooklyn Dodgers as the now retired number 42.

I was curious to see how this movie would work.  You’re not only dealing with a history-defining moment, but also the story of a shameful time in American history tied to a beloved sport.  America’s pastime.  The green diamond of dreams where many a father and son have bonded and built memories.  But in the two hours I spent in this film, there was never a moment where I was pulled back to reality.  Even with the two loud talkers sitting next to me. (I swear I must attract them. Like I’m coated with Theatre-talkers perfume or something.)  The pacing was well done, and the film has a wonderful balance of drama, humor, and action.  There are scenes of racial hatred and conflict which are unsettling to see.  One particular scene being the relentless taunting of Robinson by Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk, say it ain’t so Wash!) who yells the word ‘nigger’ so many times, he sounds like an auctioneer.  But there are other moments of racial ignorance which are tempered with humor, such as the scene in the press box when one reporter announces to his colleagues his “scientific” theory as to why Robinson is such a great player.  It has something to do with heel bones and is just as absurdly funny as it sounds.  Boseman delivers a compelling performance as Robinson.  He conveys Robinson’s strength of character and steely patience not just in words, but in the way he carries himself physically.  He and Nicole Beharie, who portrays Rachel Robinson, have an ease with each other, and paint a picture of a marriage of two intelligent, loving, and supportive individuals.  Harrison Ford is almost unrecognizable as Branch Rickey.  Padded up in the belly and given a hunched back, Ford is lost in the gravelly voiced, cigar chomping innovator.  Since he’s so recognizable and has certain qualities that are seen in almost all of his characters, it was a must for Ford to be buried in costume.  It allowed us to only see Rickey’s bravado and idealism.  A smart businessman who in the end just loved baseball and knew that racial segregation was wrong. The rest of the cast is filled with wonderful actors such as Christopher Meloni as Dodgers’ manager Leo Durocher, Andre Holland as reporter Wendell Smith, John C McGinley as sportscaster Red Barber, Lucas Black as Dodgers’ player Pee Wee Reese, and Ryan Merriman as Dodgers’ player Dixie Walker.

Even if you are not a baseball fan, this movie is definitely worth seeing.  It in no way covers every aspect of Robinson’s life, and all the complexities of that history making time.  You really need a documentary for that.  But it’s an entertaining starting point to learning about a man who willingly stepped into a tornado and held his own with dignity and aplomb.

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