“The world’s not so simple anymore,” says Branch Rickey, Brooklyn Dodgers president (Harrison Ford). “I guess it never was. Baseball can’t ignore it anymore.” It’s 1947. “It” is drafting black baseball players into the major leagues. Dodger Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black) says the same thing. “There ain’t gonna be no next time. All we got is right now.” He’s talking with newly-drafted, first black major-league ballplayer Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), on the field during the season’s pennant game. “42” is major league baseball’s integration story, one we should all know, well-told in a genuine feel-good movie. See it if you know the story and, especially, if you don’t.
Chadwick Boseman is excellent as Jackie Robinson, athletically convincing on the field and underplaying as he engages with racist ballplayers, managers and fans, holding back as he promised Dodger president Rickey he would. “You want a player who hasn’t got the guts to fight back?” he’d asked. “No,” said Harrison Ford as cigar-chomping, crusty Branch Rickey. “I want a player who has the guts not to fight back.” “You give me a uniform with a number on the back, I’ll give you the guts,” said Boseman. Ford and Boseman are “42’s” central characters and their scenes are the heart of the film, especially when Boseman finally vents his rage and Ford responds with the big speech.
Others in the fine cast include Nicole Beharie as solid Rachel “Rae” Robinson, Andre Holland as black sportswriter Wendell Smith (he also narrates the film), Lucas Black as friend Pee Wee Reese, Christopher Meloni as raunchy Leo Durocher, and Alan Tudyk as Philly manager, hateful Ben Chapman. John C. McGinley is radio sportscaster Red Barber.
“42” is an important American story, told in straight forward narrative, well crafted and affective. A feel-good movie, its message is unmistakable and upfront, but not overdone. Brian Helgeland wrote and directed, with fine production values — vintage cars, clothes and hats, 1940s ballparks, documentary-like introduction and nostalgically faded color. Mark Isham’s score signals how we should feel as the story unfolds. I was moved by the film and, with others in the audience, applauded at the end.
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and language, “42” runs 128 minutes. It’s not for youngsters but older siblings should know and understand the history lesson. On the way home you can discuss what Robinson meant when he says “What are you afraid of?” to the pitcher whose fast ball hit him earlier in the season.
“42”? You should go.
Well-made, feel-good flick,
A story we should know.
So far, the year’s best flick.