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(L-R): Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson and Oscar® nominee Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey in Warner Bros. Pictures' "42." Photo: D. Stevens

Movie Review: 42

The story of the legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson comes to life in “42,” starring Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford.  SIDEWALKS’Jeanne Powell has her take on the film.

Warner Bros. Pictures

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for “thematic elements including language”
Run Time: 128 minutes


(L-R): Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson and Oscar® nominee Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey in Warner Bros. Pictures’ “42.” Photo: D. Stevens

Studio Synopsis:
Academy Award® winner Brian Helgeland (“L.A. Confidential”) wrote and directed the drama “42,” starring Chadwick Boseman (“The Express”) and Oscar® nominee Harrison Ford (“Witness”).

Hero is a word we hear often in sports, but heroism is not always about achievements on the field of play. “42” tells the story of two men—the great Jackie Robinson and legendary Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey—whose brave stand against prejudice forever changed the world by changing the game of baseball.

In 1946, Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) put himself at the forefront of history when he signed Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) to the team, breaking Major League Baseball’s infamous color line. But the deal also put both Robinson and Rickey in the firing line of the public, the press and even other players. Facing unabashed racism from every side, Robinson was forced to demonstrate tremendous courage and restraint by not reacting in kind, knowing that any incident could destroy his and Rickey’s hopes. Instead, Number 42 let his talent on the field do the talking—ultimately winning over fans and his teammates, silencing his critics, and paving the way for others to follow.

In 1997, Major League Baseball retired the number 42 for all teams, making it the first number in sports to be universally retired. The only exception is April 15th—Jackie Robinson Day—commemorating the date of his first game as a Brooklyn Dodger. On that day alone, players from every team proudly wear Number 42 to honor the man who altered the course of history.

Rounding out the main cast of “42” are: Nicole Beharie (“Shame”) as Rachel Isum, who would become Robinson’s wife; Christopher Meloni as Leo Durocher; Andre Holland as Wendell Smith; Lucas Black as Pee Wee Reese; Hamish Linklater as Ralph Branca; Ryan Merriman as Dixie Walker; and T.R. Knight as Harold Parrott.

The film is produced by Thomas Tull, with Dick Cook, Jon Jashni, and Jason Clark serving as executives producers, and Darryl Pryor and Jillian Zaks co-producing.

Helgeland’s behind-the-scenes collaborators included Oscar®-nominated director of photography Don Burgess (“Forrest Gump”), production designer Richard Hoover, costume designer Caroline Harris, and editors Kevin Stitt and Peter McNulty. The music is composed by Oscar® nominee Mark Isham (“A River Runs Through It”).

Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures present, a Legendary Pictures Production, a Brian Helgeland film, “42.” Slated for release April 12, 2013, the film will open in time to commemorate the 66th anniversary of Jackie Robinson Day – April 15, the date of his first game as a Brooklyn Dodger.

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9RHqdZDCF0′]

(L-R): Nicole Beharie as Rachel Robinson and Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in “42.” Photo: D. Stevens

Jeanne’s Take
A film about baseball legend Jackie Robinson (1919-1972) was overdue.   This film has excellent production values and will satisfy many with its glossy history of how major league baseball broke the color line in 1947.

Veteran actor and proven box-office star Harrison Ford brings alive the character of Branch Rickey, president of the Brooklyn Dodgers during the period after World War II.  His speech, physical mannerisms, tone of voice and clothes all take you away from Ford’s “aging action figure” persona and into America in the 1940s.

Just after the First World War, Rickey designed the farm team system on which major league baseball would come to rely.  However, Rickey is most remembered as the first white baseball executive to tap into the talent of the legendary Negro Baseball Leagues.  In 1946 he scouted the Negro Leagues, picked Robinson from the Kansas City Monarchs, signed him to the Montreal Royals farm team for a year, then brought him up to the big leagues.  The racists were waiting.

Each year the major league teams (white) would play teams from the Negro Leagues and would lose games as often as they won.  Every white team owner knew there was great untapped talent in the Negro Leagues – Leroy “Satchel” Paige, Smokey Joe Williams, James “Cool Papa” Bell and others – but no one wanted to deal with the white backlash which would accompany integration.

Branch Rickey decided to be that pioneer, because he wanted the financial profit which would come from integrating major league baseball.  And as Harrison Ford says in the film, he  (Rickey) also “wanted to feel good about baseball again.”

Robinson, ably played by Chadwick Boseman, asks Rickey why he was chosen.  Rickey warns him of the steady barrage of racism he will face, and says he needed someone familiar with racially integrated situations and who was capable of holding his temper regardless of provocation.

Robinson fit that bill.  He was raised in California and attended UCLA, where he was an outstanding athlete.  He served in the military and protested against racist conduct while in uniform.

And he would need all his life experience, as well as the support of his lovely wife Rachel, to contend with bigotry in the Deep South where the farm team trained, and bigoted behavior from the Dodgers themselves once he was brought up to the major leagues.

Relative newcomer Chadwick Boseman, who plays Jackie Robinson, has appeared on television in “”Third Watch,” “Law & Order,” “”Cold Case” and “ER,” as well as the short-lived but brilliant TV series, “Detroit 1-8-7.”

Brian Helgeland directed from his own screenplay.  He also directed the crime drama “Payback” with Mel Gibson.  And Helgeland wrote the screenplays for “L.A. Confidential,” for “Mystic River” starring Sean Penn, and “The Taking of Pelham 123” starring Denzel Washington.

Leo Durocher, manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers until he was suspended for “conduct detrimental to baseball” with regard to his personal life, is played by Christopher Meloni (“Law & Order”).

Nicole Beharie is Robinson’s supportive wife Rachel in the film; she has excellent chemistry with Boseman.  She has appeared in television series such as “Law & Order” and “The Good Wife.”

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said of Robinson, “he underwent the trauma and humiliation and the loneliness which comes with being a pilgrim…”   The threats were frequent and serious; at one point Rickey shows a baseball player three manila folders filled with death threats against Robinson and his wife.

The continual pressure on Jackie Robinson to prove himself is captured during one particularly ugly game against Cincinnati, where the opposing team’s manager hurls racial threats at him for nearly 10 minutes.  This is Hollywood’s way of emphasizing the racism, which approach ignores the fact that racial consciousness was forced on Robinson throughout his major league career.

Before his death at age 53, Robinson was in failing health.  If he had failed in the first attempt to integrate major league baseball, the results would have been catastrophic for sports and for Black America.  Yet, his success meant the beginning of the end for the legendary and glorious Negro Baseball Leagues.  Robinson had to bear this double burden for the rest of his life.

A glossy and feel-good film, “42” will play well with many audiences.  Ford will receive an Oscar nomination.  And many Americans will have to go to Google and Bing to find out more about the Negro Baseball Leagues.

About Jeanne Powell

Jeanne Powell is a poet and short story writer, who teaches in a summer program for teens. Her most recent books are "My Own Silence" and "Word Dancing," available online and through booksellers. She also hosts spoken word events in San Francisco, and covers cultural happenings for online media.