Director and screenwriter Brian Helgeland hits one out of the ballpark with his movie 42. The tale of legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson scores across the bases with strong messages and stellar performances by an impressive cast.
It may also be a redemptive homerun for one of the film’s executive producers. Dick Cook, the former Chairman of Walt Disney Studios, was ousted from the Mouse House in 2009. In 2011 it was rumored Cook was seeking funding to produce his own family friendly movies. While 42 isn’t suitable for all family members, the historical drama will play well to both baseball fans and general movie audiences.
Veteran actor Harrison Ford stars as the pioneering, cigar-chomping general manager Branch Rickey who signs Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers. John C. McGinley portrays Red Barber, the team’s colorful commentator with a bat bag full of sporty colloquialisms. Both performers create convincing characters that are a far cry from Hans Solo of Star Wars or Dr. Perry Cox of Scrubs. But it is small screen actor Chadwick Boseman that rockets this script into orbit like a squarely hit pitch. Without the distraction of other big theater roles on his resume, Boseman brings a fresh face to this sound depiction of the famous rookie.
Following the details of the true story, the trail-blazing Branch questions the Major League Baseball’s color barrier during a shameful period when African American soldiers returned from fighting in World War II only to face racial discrimination and Jim Crowe laws at home. Luckily for Robinson, the audacious executive is willing to challenge this prejudice on the ball diamond. While capturing the virulent hostility Jackie faces on the field, the movie also shows the support he receives from his wife Rachel (Nicole Beharie), African American sportswriter Wendell Smith (Andre Holland) and teammates Eddie Stanky (Jesse Luken) and Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black).
The script includes a deluge of racial slurs, infrequent profanities and a tirade of offensive sexual comments along with racial discrimination. Bullying and an adulterous relationship also rack up errors against this film’s content. Unfortunately many of the depictions, including the haze of cigar smoke that hovers around Branch Rickey, are true to the time.
However for older teens and adults, number 42’s journey to the big league is more impressive than even his stats. Credited with helping to spark the civil rights movement, his stance against racial barriers continues to serve as an example today. Choosing to deal with his agonies in private, his gentleman demeanor and unwavering love of the game in public inspires even his Dodger teammates to face their prejudices and become a real team. In a current era where various sports leagues are confronted with labor disputes, bloated egos and performance-enhancing drugs, Jackie Robinson remains a role model to young players ready to pick up the bat and play ball.