"Plaaaay Ballllll!" Yes, the Boys of Summer are at it again and this time, I learned a LOT about where American baseball has been and the fundamental changes that have happened in my lifetime. Even though we already know how it ends, thanks to a terrific PG-13 script by Brian Helgeland (Oscar for "L.A. Confidential") this insight into the Great American Pastime is an excellent reminder of how far we have come, thanks to courageous trail blazers like Jackie Robinson, who integrated professional baseball in 1945 at the instigation of Branch Rickey, a baseball executive who loved the game.
We cringe at the language used to attack our hero, we are saddened by the refusal of hotels and restaurants to serve a team that includes a black man, we are enraged by the racist heckling that takes place and we cheer when we see a man quietly rise above the rancor and "just play ball."
Here is a sample of the (huge) wonderful cast:
* Chatwick Boseman ("The Express" and lots of TV) is heroic as the legendary Jackie Robinson, whose Brooklyn Dodgers uniform boasts a "42" on the back. Despite Jim Crow laws, blatant racism and a potential lynch mob, he staunchly maintains, "I'm just here to play baseball."
* Nicole Beharie ("Shame") is Robinson's gentle wife, Rachel, who is the calm at the center of his storm. The Robinsons are from Pasadena, so neither of them had ever encountered segregation; they had only read about it.
* Harrison Ford ("Ender's Game" SOON!) is marvelous as Branch Rickey, the man who first brings a black man (Robinson) into Big League Baseball. He pulls no punches when he lays out what is in store for Robinson; he gives excellent advice. He explains that "God is a Methodist."
* Christopher Meloni ("True Blood") as Dodger coach Leo Durocher, Jackie Robinson's first defender on the team. He blasts the rebellious Dodger teammates who threaten to boycott until Robinson is fired: "If Robinson can help us win, then he's gonna play on this ball club."
* Alan Tudek ("Firefly" and LOTS of TV) as Ben Chapman, the racist Philadelphia coach whose vile heckling of Robinson finally turns the tide. The crowd can't help but sympathize with his victim.
* Lucas Black ("Seven Days in Utopia") playing Southerner Pee Wee Reese, another legend who had to come to grips with his own prejudice. Eventually he tells Robinson, "Maybe tomorrow we'll all wear a 42 on our uniforms, that way nobody will be able to tell us apart." (This has become an annual event.)
* Hamish Linklater ("Lola Versus") is Ralph Branca, the teammate who tries to invite Robinson to shower with the team. The more awkward he becomes, the funnier the scene becomes.
The screening audience was entertained, thrilled and inspired, our applause was richly deserved, and we all went home much smarter than when we came in. Be sure to stay for the final credits because there are some interesting (and satisfying) postscripts.
Please take children to see what our tawdry past looked like not too long ago, or show them the DVD from Amazon when it becomes available. They will be shocked!
on April 14, 2013
When I was a kid Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey were history, I read about them in books. But my baseball heroes were Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins, to me they were always just baseball players, their being black wasn't a factor in either my liking or disliking of them, and "42" brings home the truly heroic effort and forces Jackie Robinson had to overcome.
"Sports movies" are best when they're a metaphor for other areas of our lives. "Field of Dreams" isn't really about baseball, "Rocky" isn't really about boxing, and "Hoosiers" really isn't about basketball. What those movies speak to are other forces in our lives that hopefully bring out the best in us, and while "42" isn't metaphorical it speaks directly to our views of race and racism.
"42" takes place between 1946 and 1948 when Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) brought Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) to the Brooklyn Dodgers and integrated baseball. The plot is as simple as that, the story isn't. Robinson was virtually alone, Martin Luther King Jr was still a high school student, Rosa Parks hadn't yet refused to sit at the back of the bus (although Robinson had and was court-martialed for it in the military), those who believed in him were his wife Rachael (Nicole Beharie) and Rickey. Robinson didn't even have the backing of his teammates who started a petition refusing to play with Robinson, slowly Robinson won over their respect. The way Robinson won over their respect, besides being a great ballplayer was to smile while epithets and threats were hurled at him, to get back up after players on opposing teams purposefully injured him. Robinson is a man with a temper but he knows history is watching and whether the integration of baseball happens or not rests on how he acts, and in public he was a tower of strength and "42" is brave enough to show Robinson's private moment of doubt and wanting to strike back at his attackers.
The cast and acting of "42" is superb, Chadwick Boseman resembles Robinson so much the only thing better would have been Robinson playing himself. Boseman exudes Robinson's strength smiling in the face of those who don't want him in baseball while showing the pain that lies just under Robinson's surface. Ford's Branch Rickey is a hero apart from the characters of overt action Ford has played in the past and Ford summon's Rickey's unshakeable faith in the integration of baseball because of his sense of what is right and his religious views make Rickey a pillar against which the waves of racism wash against and try to erode but ultimately fail. It may be to early in the year but this may be a Oscar worthy performance for Ford. Nicole Beharie as Rachel Robinson is Jackie's pillar of strength, it's a clichéd role but it is no way clichéd or rote acting, Beharie conveys the tender support Rachel Robinson did for Jackie and as she still does carrying on his legacy. Christopher Meloni is great as Dodgers manager Leo Durocher and he brings the menace and ultimate authority that Durocher had as a manager, it's a shame history took Durocher out of the game so early in Robinson's story Meloni steals the screen in his scenes. As Durocher's replacement Max Gail plays Burt Shooten, the position and character are place holders in history and the movie, but it's kind of cool to see Max Gail in a film.
Today all sports and teams are integrated, all races participate in all sports, we don't even think of it as integration any more, it's just the fact that if you rise to a certain level of achievment you can play professional sports no matter your ethnic background or heritage. There are also reminders for us that "42" isn't dead history, throughout the movie we hear the rejoinder of "this isn't the America I know" echoes of which we've heard in our recent past. "42" even offers a choice, when the Dodgers play in Cincinnati we see a father and son in the stands, the father relating seeing his baseball hero Honus Wagner as a kid, a touching moment that has probably been repeated millions of times in the 100 year plus history of professional baseball. But when Jackie Robinson takes the field the father starts calling him "n-----" the son at first looks stunned at the change in his father, then following his father's example starts using the same epithets until his hero Pee-Wee Reese comes up to Robinson and puts his arm around him for all to see and the camera cuts back to the confused look on the kids face, he has a choice to make in life. That is why "42" is a special movie that reminds of us a time that wasn't so long ago (well within the confines of a life time) and how we got to where we are, it's a history to remember and not let the forces of ignorance and hate take us backwards.
on July 17, 2013
When I was growing up, I listened to baseball on my radio at night and found myself imagining who these players were and what their lives were like. When I finally saw pictures of these men, I didn't think it was so strange that only one was a black man and the rest were white. Being a child from the midwest, I had no realization what the significance of that would be until later in my life. I enjoyed watching this movie as it took a trip back into time and helped give insight into the world of major league baseball and the men like Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson who had the courage and grace to help this country take that giant step forward. As Dr. King said, this country should truly be about the content of your character and not the color of your skin. This is more than a movie about the all American game of baseball, this is a movie about us, about who we were, where we have been, and where we are going. Watch it, you won't be disappointed.
42, written and directed by Brian Helgeland, is based on the real-life story of Jack Roosevelt "Jackie" Robinson, the first African-American baseball player to play in the major leagues. Robinson's story is well known to many, but to anyone who isn't, 42 (Robinson's number when he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers) will serve to acquaint them with the man and his achievements against the backdrop of the times he lived through. The cast is excellent and give outstanding performances, particularly when recreating the feel of the times and the way it felt to watch Robinson play.
The story begins in 1945, when Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey (a deftly turned performance by Harrison Ford) makes the decision that his team is going to be the first major league baseball team to recruit and field a black player. He takes his time, going over the various prospects with his staff, and finally settles on a short-stop currently playing for a black league team, the Kansas City Monarchs, Jackie Robinson (terrifically played by Chadwick Boseman). The film then follows Robinson's career, starting with his being signed to Rickey's minor-league Montreal Royals for the 1946 season, and then his move up to the big league Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
One of the best things about 42 is that it does show just how racially divided American was in the years following WWII and how openly hostile - and acted upon - the racism was in those days. This is absolutely vital to the film in order to show just how daring - and risky - Rickey's decision was, and how daunting the challenge was for Robinson to was to step up to the plate and face the hostility of not only the crowds but also that of his own teammates as well.
As I said, the cast is excellent and there are too many fine performances to list them all. Harrison Ford is visibly having a ball in his best role in years as the garrulous, cigar-chomping but never wavering in determination Branch Rickey. Christopher Meloni (best known from TV's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) delivers in spades as the larger-than-life Dodgers manager, Leo Durocher. And Lucas Black turns in a deft performance as Robinson's Dodgers teammate, baseball legend Pee Wee Reese. Alan Tudyk gets the thankless - but important - job of playing Ben Chapman, the Philadelphia Phillies' manager who openly race-baits Robinson during a game. And to his credit, Tudyk carries it off brilliantly, filling the screen with everything that so desperately needing changing in America at that time. On the other side, Andre Holland's African-American sportswriter Wendell Smith, who has to sit with his typewriter balanced on his knees in the bleachers because they don't allow blacks in the news booth, is there to remind Robinson in his soft-spoken but clear-eyed way that "This isn't just about you." And Nicole Beharie as Rachel Robinson is supportive grace personified as she gives Jackie a calm center to turn to amid the storm swirling all about him.
But it is above all Chadwick Boseman's masterful portrayal of Robinson himself that carries the film, from the way in which he brings out the man behind the legend to the way in which he vividly recreates the way Robinson played the game. The scenes where Robinson repeatedly gets the best of one pitcher after another with his visually taunting, hands-twitching stealing of bases are almost worth the price of admission just by themselves.
My only complaint is in regard to Helgeland's direction and script. While there are many scenes and moments in 42 that are beautifully rendered, as a film it feels somewhat choppy, moving in a paint-by-numbers fashion to fill in one episode after the other but with no real smoothness or flow to it. And too often Helgeland seems to lack confidence in the story, choosing to gild the lily with scenes that are decidedly ham-handed in contrast to the moments of sheer grace that Robinson's story has in abundance. (I swear, some scenes are so heavy-handed one almost expects Keenan Ivory Wayans to suddenly appear on-screen shouting "Message!" the way he did in the over-the-top spoof Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood). That said however, please take all this with a grain of salt. 42 _is_ a good film. It might even be a very good film. But given the truly history-making nature of the story, and the remarkable performances by the highly talented cast, it could have been a _great_ film. I know that Helgeland has done excellent work as a screenwriter in the past, from 1998's L.A. Confidential for which he won an Academy Award to 2003's Mystic River for which he was nominated, with A Knight's Tale and Payback, which he also directed, in between. But his record since then has been decidedly spotty, with his only directing credit being the 2003 box-office bomb The Order and writing credits for less than stellar films like Man On Fire, the 2009 remake of The Taking of Pelham One-Two-Three, Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant, 2010's Robin Hood and Green Zone. While 42 will hopefully do better than any of those, it unfortunately only seems to continue Helgeland's slump as a writer and/or director.
Highly recommended to anyone wanting to know more about a critical era in major league sports and about the men who changed it forever.
I saw "42" last night and walked away informed and inspired.
I think this movie has two significant strengths. First, it did a good job of depicting the attitudes and opinions of people in and about baseball and segregation in the post WWII-years. Second, it contains, IOM, the best acting I have ever seen by Harrison Ford. Again, IMO, it is Oscar-worthy.
Don't get me wrong, Harrison Ford is larger than life as Han Solo and Indiana Jones, but in "42" he hit his full stride as an actor, showing that he's much, much more than an action-adventure icon.
This film does a great modeling the battle between civil rights/decency and bigotry/"JIm Crow" America using Jackie Robinson and MLB. I was deeply impressed by the treatment of the subject and the quality of people it took to take it on. They all had their own reasons for doing so, but in the end, they collectively did this country a great service. Plus, Robinson and others previously banned from MLB due to race, made significant contributions that improved the game and increased its stature in American culture - and I'm not even a baseball fan.
If you thought this was "just a baseball movie" you'd be mistaken. It's a movie about America and Americans. We don't always do it right, but so far we've eventually gotten it right.
I look forward to adding "42" to my personal library.
5 solid stars, and I hope Harrison Ford's name shows up on the 2013 Oscar Ballot because of it.
on April 21, 2013
There's been no shortage of sports dramas in Hollywood, which typically releases a feel-good sports flick every year or so, and we as movie-goers love to see an uplifting and inspirational story that pertains to the world of sports. However, over the course of history, there may be no story of greater importance than that of Jackie Robinson, the lone man who broke through Major League Baseball's color barrier and changed the sport, as well as our nation, forever.
42 tells the story of these amazing figures and the trials they endured to make Jackie Robinson the first African-American player in the game. In the film, the legendary athlete is played by newcomer Chadwick Boseman who does a terrific job given the weight and importance of the man he's portraying, and whose performance is earnest and inspirational. Of course, Robinson's journey couldn't have happened without Branch Rickey, the GM of the Brooklyn Dodgers who risked everything to take a stand against prejudice. That man is played by Harrison Ford, who plays the part fantastically. The pair have some great on-screen moments and really add to the film's authenticity. All-in-all it's a very well-rounded cast with some strong supporting roles, including John C. McGinley as Red Barber and Lucas Black as Pee Wee Reese.
This film is a fantastic biopic of one of sports's most important figures. The performances are great and there's some really good baseball action as well. The film also contains more humor than I would have expected, most of which comes from Robinson's Dodger teammates. Do yourself a favor and see 42. It's a respectful and engaging sports film that will leave you feeling up-lifted and inspired.
on April 26, 2013
"You give me a uniform, you give me a number on my back, I'll give you the guts." For over 50 years baseball (like the rest of the country) was a white man's game. After just missing the world series the previous year Brooklyn Dodger owner Branch Rickey (Ford) decides to shake up his team, as well as the world by signing the best Negro league baseball player to a MLB contract. For Jackie Robinson (Boseman) it just wasn't as easy as putting on a uniform and playing. As many of you know I am a huge baseball fan and I love true stories so I was very much looking forward to seeing this. Even with my high expectations the movie was still better then I was hoping. Besides the movie being one of the best I have seen in a long time Harrison Ford turns in what I think is the best performance of his career and I don't think an Oscar win for him finally is a stretch. The racism shown in this movie is bad but I'm sure it's not even a quarter of what it actually was. That fact alone makes your respect for Robinson leap up from its already high mark. Even if you aren't a huge baseball fan this is a movie you should see. It's more a movie about the human condition and the limits you can reach if you believe in something. Overall, best movie of 2013 so far and best movie I have seen in awhile. I easily give it an A+.
on May 12, 2013
What a great movie!! This is one time the movie critics and I actually agree on something. 42 is incredible. Chadwick Boseman proves that any newcomer to acting can bring life and a balanced tone to any character and my friends, he does just that with his portrayal as Jackie Robinson. Harrison Ford is my pick for Best Supporting Actor already; he did a supremely fine job playing Branch Rickey. His character wanted things to change for the better, and i admired and appreciated that aspect in the movie. It has been a long time since I last saw Lucas Black in a movie, but he did a great job as Pee Wee Reese. Christopher Meloni(the guy from Law and Order Svu) has a supporting role. The other remaining cast all gave terrific performances. After watching 42, I can say that: Jackie Robinson is one of my heroes. Not just because he was the first African American to play Major League Baseball, but because through all the adversity, name calling, etc. he never gave up. He WAS destined for greatness. Thank god that this movie was made.
To close out my review, 42 is the much-needed uplifting, inspiring film that I absolutely can not wait to buy on dvd. I would give this movie 100 stars (if that were possible) so 42 gets:
Thank You for reading my reviews!! Please feel free to comment, make suggestions, or read any other reviews I have written.
on May 5, 2013
"Break an unwritten law and you will be an out cast."
Facing an uphill battle Branch Ricky (Harrison Ford) finds the right African-American ballplayer to break the color barrier in baseball. Rickey's reasons are diverse being both altruistic, having a sense of justice, old guilty feelings, and the desire to win and make money. Chadwick Boseman portrays the Jackie Robinson of legend, an overly talented, silent, and classy individual. While the film is about him, it shows things that go on behind the scenes.
The film starts with a quick background and goes into Jackie's minor league trials and tribulations on and off the field. Ricky supported Robinson off the field anyway he could, but on the field Jackie was alone. It shows the break through of his teammates to overcome the prejudicial urges they grew up with. Minds winning over emotions to do what was right.
Don't get me wrong, it shows whites behaving badly and makes Philadelphia look bad. It gives us a glimpse of the ugly side of baseball, one we really don't want to see. In spite of the heavy and historical use of the N-word, it is a film that makes audiences stand up and applaud.
What the film doesn't tell you about is all the children that were named Jack or Jackie because of this man.
Parental Guide: No f-bombs, sex, or nudity. Frequent racial slurs.
on February 11, 2014
Jackie Robinson as a superhuman archetype, standing up to fierce racism and intentional beanballs with the same level of quiet resolve and solemn dignity. It's the sort of movie that writes itself, for better and (more commonly) for worse: one dramatic figure stands against the perils of an acidic hive mind and slowly turns the tide. On the very few occasions where we see cracks in Robinson's veneer, the film is intensely interesting. That's the real draw, to me, how a fiery man struggled to tame his very loud emotions in the pursuit of an insurmountably lofty, important ideal. 42 only gives us a brief taste, sadly, choosing instead to invest its time in tired, overplayed vignettes (hey, it turns out southerners were resistant to integration) and a thin, after-school-special grade performance from its cast. Harrison Ford is a lot of fun as the brash, cocksure executive Branch Rickey, who chose to integrate MLB on his own volition, but he's so makeup caked and under-inspected that it's tough to see the role as more than just a particularly eccentric joyride. Mildly effective, with a few dashes of quality spice, it whiffed on the potential to be so much more.