By Piper Bayard
42, starring Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, and Nicole Beharie, tells a story of African-American Jackie Robinson’s breakthrough into the world of major league baseball. It covers Robinson’s life from the time he was first hired to play for the Dodgers’ affiliate, the Montreal Royals, through his rookie year with the Dodgers.
Jackie Robinson used his life to write a story of pioneering talent and determination, from being UCLA’s first 4-letter athlete and a 2nd lieutenant and platoon leader in the U.S. Army during WWII, to becoming the first ever major league baseball Rookie of the Year. He was an extraordinary man and an outstanding baseball player. Too bad this movie isn’t about him.
Instead, 42 is about the deity commonly referred to as “Jackie Robinson.” The movie isn’t even shy about Robinson’s deity status, making several overt correlations between him and Jesus Christ, with his only “flaw” being an occasional reasonable display of temper. I can’t help but think that Jackie Robinson the Man might have cringed at the explicit comparisons with the Son of God.
That said, the acting in this movie is excellent. Most of the characters are written as 21st century politically correct racial stereotypes. However, the actors do a great job in spite of their, if you will forgive me, black and white roles, and their performances were excellent to a person.
Chadwick Boseman, a graduate of Howard University and a former student of the British American Drama Academy in Oxford, England, is exceptional as Jackie Robinson. He took Hollywood’s character profile of a deity and almost convinced me he was playing an actual historical figure rather than a mythical hero. He is the antithesis of Kristen Stewart with his range of facial expressions, and he has a lovely smile that I look forward to seeing in another movie. Soon, if possible.
Harrison Ford, always a welcome favorite, is gifted by the writers in having a well-rounded character to play in the form of Branch Rickey. He did a great job with it.
Nicole Beharie also deserves recognition for her portrayal of Rachel, Jackie Robinson’s wife. It’s not mentioned in the movie, but Rachel Robinson went on to become an Assistant Professor at Yale School of Nursing and the Director of Nursing at the Connecticut Mental Health Center. Beharie is more than believable playing that accomplished, graceful young woman in the movie who would, herself, make contributions to history in her own right.
I do not want to diminish Jackie Robinson the Man’s accomplishments. I have the greatest respect for him and for the uphill battle he faced. There is no question that Robinson suffered considerable racism both on and off the diamond. And, to the best of my knowledge, the movie is accurate in its portrayal of Phillies manager Ben Chapman, the Phillies, and the Cardinals, who were notable in their racial abuse.
However, unlike the movie portrayal, Robinson was not the only black player in the Montreal Royals. In fact, the International League had a number of minorities in their ranks at the time he joined. Also, the Brooklyn Dodgers largely welcomed him to their team with only a handful of his teammates objecting. Throughout the baseball world, there were mixed reactions to opening major league baseball teams to racial minorities, and for every white person who was against it, there was another white person who would not have cared if Robinson was a Martian as long as he could hit. Young people watching this movie would never know that.
I give this movie a .38 Special rating*. That means I was glad I saw it at the matinée, and I’m actually glad I saw it. The actors’ performances were worth the trip in spite of the fact that the movie struck me as the cinematic equivalent of a Thomas Kinkade painting. Light was cast from a dedicated perspective. I believe it disrespects and dehumanizes the extraordinary man and amazing ballplayer, Jackie Robinson, by reducing him to a stereotypical hero/deity rather than presenting him as he was. The reality of the great human man who inspired generations of children of all races would have been the better story.
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*Our Movie Rating System:
- Dud Chinese-manufactured ammo: Stay home and do housework. You’ll have more fun.
- .22 rim fire: Not worth the big screen, but ok to rent.
- .380: Go to the matinée if someone else is paying.
- .38 special: Worth paying for the matinée yourself.
- .357 magnum: Okay to upgrade to prime time if you can stand the crowd.
- .44 magnum: Must see this. Potentially life-altering event.