Movie Review – 42

42-1SHT--ADV-DOM-jpg_204053 On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson made history by stepping out onto Ebbets Field wearing the number 42 on the back of his Brooklyn Dodger’s uniform to be the first black man to play on a major league baseball team! And 66 years later, on April 15, 2013, I sat in a movie theater totally mesmerized by his story. His courage and character are an inspiration and make him worthy of the titles “hero” and “role model”.

The story begins with Branch Rickey, President and General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers – played brilliantly by Harrison Ford – scouting for a black ball player from the Negro Leagues to join his ball club. Rickey desperately wanted to be the first to break the color barrier and bring the colored fans to the major league games. At the time, Jack Robinson, portrayed by Chadwick Boseman, was playing for a Negro League club – the Kansas City Monarchs. Robinson caught Rickey’s attention and, after ensuring Robinson had the guts to take the inevitable racism he would encounter, Rickey assigned him to Brooklyn’s farm team, the Montreal Royals in 1946. Rickey wanted the press and the fans to focus on Robinson’s talent, rather than his color – a tough goal in those days! He coached Robinson intensively on the need to “turn the other cheek”. Robinson asked him, “Are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?”, to which Rickey replied, “I’m looking for a Negro player with the guts NOT to fight back”! His strategy was designed so the press wouldn’t immediately see HIM as the cause for any racial tension – they would see him as the one with humility, courage, and character – to see past the racism and recognize his talent. And it worked! A year later, Rickey called Robinson up to sign with the Dodgers and the rest, as they say, was history! Robinson, though, struggled immensely with the “turn the other cheek” agreement he made with Rickey. He found it humiliating to stand on the field and give his all to the game he loved while being heckled and booed relentlessly by fans and players, alike.  Even his own team mates shunned him and protested his being a part of the team, until most of them began to be embarrassed by the ridicule and rallied around him in support – in particular after an infamous game where Phillies manager, Ben Chapman, ranted an endless string of unconscionable abuse during a game whenever Robinson came up to bat. He suffered from extensive deliberate rough play – including a hard hit to the head by the Pittsburg Pirates’ pitcher – and umpires making obvious bad calls against him. Towns and other teams where the Dodgers were scheduled to play often closed (or threatened to close) their parks and refused to allow the team to stay at hotels unless Robinson was left behind. Police ordered him off the field in one southern town claiming a law against blacks playing with whites. But, he persevered and went down in history as not only the first black major league player, but as one of the greatest major league players of all time.

The story takes us from Rickey’s goal to break the color barrier to the end of the 1947 season when the Dodgers won the pennant and a spot in the World Series against the Yankees (who actually won that series, but the movie didn’t go that far).

The movie has several outstanding performances and memorable characters.

  • Chadwick Boseman is amazing as Jackie Robinson – his rugged good looks and childish grin immediately draw you in and his performance gives you an insight into the sole of the man he portrays. He makes Robinson likeable and brings to life the struggle between humility and frustration Robinson lived with.
  • I noted earlier that Harrison Ford was brilliant as Branch Rickey. I like Harrison Ford! A lot! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie he was in that I didn’t like his character and his performance. He’s a genuine actor and makes his craft look easy! This role was no exception – he was perfectly cast, in my never-to-be-humble-opinion!
  • Nicole Beharie was cast as Robinson’s wife, Rachel. Beharie’s beauty and grace embrace the role as Rachel Robinson, who is torn between the pride she has in her talented husband, her support of his dreams, and her torment over watching his humiliation at the hands of the white fans and players.
  • Andre Holland is Wendall Smith – a black journalist assigned to Robinson by Rickey to cover his journey. Smith has his own struggles to endure – black journalists were not allowed in the press boxes and he was often asked to protect and transport Robinson out of bad situations and support the goal of “turning the other cheek”, even when he was being targeted, himself.
  • Christopher Meloni played Leo Durocher – Brooklyn Dodgers’ manager. I always loved Meloni as Det. Stabler on Law and Order: SVU and he didn’t disappoint in this movie, either. Durocher was a no-nonsense manager who told the rebelling players in no uncertain terms that they were to be team players and accept Robinson or the organization would be more than happy to make other arrangements for them in terms of a trade! He was suspended by the Commissioner of Baseball due to an ethics violation, so he wasn’t able to continue his backing of Robinson, but while he was in charge, he kicked butt!
  • Max Gail (of Barney Miller fame) portrayed Durocher’s replacement – Burt Shotton, who wasn’t as “in your face” as Durocher, but still made his point!
  • Alan Tudyk was Ben Chapman – the Phillies manager who went into a tirade of racist slurs every time Robinson came to bat. He even looked like a creep!!! He was very convincing and hate-able (I know – that probably isn’t a word, but it fits)!!! His vulgar tirade is a focal point of the story and a turning point in how the other Dodgers players view Robinson. After, he seeks to improve his image by asking Robinson to pose with him for a photo shoot to commemorate “burying the hatchet”. When the photographers ask them to shake hands, Robinson sees his discomfort and proves to be the better man by picking up a bat and offering to use that so “we don’t have to touch skin”. Chapman shows his shame with a strange grin and a nod to Robinson. The photo appears on magazines and newspapers across the nation. The end of the movie shows each character and where their careers took them and it said that he was soon fired as manager and never managed a team again – YAY! (Oh, dear – I see I focused this more on the character than the actor’s portrayal of the character! I guess that is a testament to how well he played him – I don’t see a separation!)
  • John C. McGinley (from Scrubs) was totally delightful as Red Barber – the voice of the Brooklyn Dodgers – what a character! I enjoyed every scene he offered his play-by-play commentary!
  • T. R. Knight – from early seasons of Grey’s Anatomy – was Harold Parrott. Not exactly sure what his role in the organization was, but he was apparently some sort of an assistant or advisor to Branch Rickey. At first, he argued strongly against Rickey looking for a black ball player. In fact, he made the statement, “…are you out of your mind?”. But, he came around and strongly defended Robinson as time went on. His character was not a strong focus, but memorable to me, all the same.
  • And, the last one I want to mention is James Pickens, Jr as Mr. Brock. He had a small role near the beginning as the owner of a home that Rickey arranged for Robinson to stay at and we didn’t see him again, but I wanted to mention him because I adore him as Dr. Webber in Grey’s Anatomy and was delighted to see him in this role! 🙂

So, obviously, I highly recommend this movie – baseball fan or not – it is outstanding!!! Oh, and I can’t end this review without my favorite quote — this is from Rickey when he chooses Robinson to be his draft pick: “He’s Methodist. I’m Methodist. God’s Methodist. We can’t go wrong.”!  HA – I just cracked up when I heard that!!!!

I give this movie a HUGE TWO THUMBS UP and a solid A+++ – go see it, you won’t regret it!

thumbs up

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