RR Logo 42: The True Story Of An American Legend

42 the film about Jackie Robinson Photo OneThe film 42: The True Story Of An American Legend, which opened on April 12th is based on the life and career of Jackie Robinson the first African American to ever play in Major League Baseball is a film that deserves to be seen by a lot of people. It says here that this Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures picture should garner actor Harrison Ford an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Branch Rickey the President of the Brooklyn Dodgers who brought Jackie Robinson first to the Montreal Royals and later to the Dodgers.  Chadwick Boseman is solid in his role as Jackie Robinson, but we believe Nicole Beharie as Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s wife, was just as good and that should not be construed as a knock on the performance of Chadwick Boseman, but this is simply a movie that has several outstanding performances.

Brian Helgeland who wrote the screenplay did an outstanding job of directing 42: The True Story Of An American Legend. He painted a realistic and unfortunately sad commentary on the racism that Jackie Robinson and blacks in general faced in 1947, the year in whichRobinson became the first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers (in later years Jackie Robinson would play second base, third base and outfield).  What makes Helgeland’s screenplay and the film work so well is he does not attempt to make a statement nor does he try to try to turn this into a political film he simply lets the events of the day tell the story.  That becomes the best commentary that anyone can make about the injustice of prejudice of any kind. Denying Robinson in one scene and Rachel Robinson in another scene the right to use a bathroom that was reserved for whites only or the refusal to let the Dodgers baseball team enter a hotel they had stayed in for the previous ten years, because there was a (fill in the blank) on the baseball team. Ben Chapman (actor: Alan Tudyk) the manager of the Philadelphia baseball team standing on the sidelines slurring Jackie Robinson while he was at bat and the umpires turning a deaf ear. He had pitchers deliberately throw at his head and he was intentionally spiked.

This film however is also about good people. It is about the white man who approached Jackie Robinson early in his career and told him that he wanted him to know that there were people that believed he deserved the same chance as everyone else. It is about manager Leo Derocher (actor: Christopher Meloni) who backed Branch Rickey’s desire to break the color barrier declaring that he did not care what color a ball player was or if he had zebra stripes if he could help the team to win, “If Robinson can help us win, then he is gonna’ play on this ball club!” He helped quell an uprising among some of the Dodgers’ players. It is also about Pee Wee Reese's  (actor: Lucas Black) gesture during a game in Cincinnati at which the crowd was yelling racial slurs at Robinson. Reese crossed the midfield from his position at shortstop and put his arm around Robinson who was playing first base. Riveting Riffs Magazine wondered if this was a bit of Hollywood or if the event actually took place. We did our homework and there appear to be enough eye witnesses among the player ranks, journalists and others who witnessed this event, as well as Jackie Robinson mentioning it in well documented interviews to certify that this really did in fact happen. Considering that Pee Wee Reese, so the story goes had received a threatening letter prior to that game being played and Robinson already having received countless threats on his life, the life of Rachel and their baby it was not only an outstanding gesture, but it took courage. In 2005, a statue of Pee Wee Reese with his arm around Jackie Robinson’s shoulders was unveiled outside of the Brooklyn Cyclones’ home field commemorating the event.  There is also a humorous scene in the film when Max Gail as Burt Shotton the Brooklyn Dodgers manager, after Leo Durocher was suspended, turns and asks are you Robinson? When he receives the affirmative answer he says “I thought you might be,” and shakes his hand. The humor of course is there was only one black man in that locker room.

Chadwick Boseman is excellent at portraying defiance in the face of racial injustice, as well as sadness at other times and the struggle to restrain his anger, counsel given to Jackie Robinson by Branch Rickey, because Rickey felt if he acted like any normal human being had a right to that the press and baseball fans would devour Robinson. The added bonus is, apparently there is general agreement among the cast, director and the general public that there is a big resemblance in the appearance of Boseman and Robinson, something that was not a factor in his being selected for the role, says director Brian Helgeland.

Actor Andre Holland who portrays African American journalist Wendell Smith, whom Branch Rickey also assigned to chauffeur Jackie Robinson and to watch his back, also puts in a great performance. He reminded us of a young Denzel Washington, not in his appearance, but with his acting.

We could talk at length about the storyline and the performances, but then it would spoil the movie 42 for you when you do watch it. In an interview that comprises part of the film studios press kit for the film 42, Harrison Ford talks about the investment he made in the character of Branch Rickey and the importance of connecting on an emotional level. We would suggest that all of the actors in this film, whether they be in a leading role or a supporting role made a huge investment in their characters. This is one of the most memorable and well-acted films that we have seen in a while and it is worthy of several Academy Award nominations.     

A trailer for the film can be viewed here.

Editor's note in various publicity pieces from Warner Bros. Pictures the film has been referred to as simply 42, 42: The True Story Of An American Legend and 42: The Story Of An American Legend.               

Reviewed by Joe Montague    Return to our Front Page

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