Yours truly had the pleasure of nabbing tickets to an advanced screening of 42, the film every baseball fan and true American has been anxiously awaiting since the trailer first hit the airwaves. Here, you can find a review of the film with minimal spoilers, before it hits theaters on Friday, April 12th. Enjoy!
“You give me a uniform, you give me a number on my back, I’ll give you the guts.” – Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson
If ever a quote were to perfectly exemplify a film and the true story it depicts, this is the one. The delivery of this courageous, thrilling line near the beginning of the movie sets the stage for the next two hours of events, as they unfold in the way that baseball legend now has it.
With creative licenses taken here and there (as per the usual for any sports film based on a true story), the script sticks mostly to form. It showcases Jackie Robinson’s personal battles–everything from racism, to death threats, to intentional beanings, to self-doubt–and influential conquests on his way to becoming a welcomed, respected member of the MLB fraternity.
The film wastes no time, either. Director and writer Brian Helgeland (Man on Fire, Robin Hood, A Knight’s Tale, L.A. Confidential, Mystic River) dives right into the issue at hand, with a gruff, cigar-wielding Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) opening the film by explaining to his front office staff that he wants to bring a Negro League player to the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Rickey passes over names like Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson in favor of Robinson, because he has talent and guts, which is a requirement for the certain prejudice any black player would face in making such a jump to “the white man’s game.”
Simultaneously, Robinson and his Kansas City Monarchs colleagues are bussing through Missouri on their way to a game in Chicago. They stop at a podunk gas station, and Robinson heads for the restroom. The station owner who is filling their tank yells at Robinson (in less friendly words than seen here), “You know you can’t go in there.” This is where we get our first glimpse of Robinson’s moxie, as he saunters up to the white man and threatens to take the team’s business elsewhere.
This fearlessness becomes a theme as we see Robinson go unfazed by any of the hypothetical problems he is warned about by Rickey and his personal journalist/bodyguard Wendell Smith (Andre Holland). As Robinson makes his way to Dodgers spring training and earns a spot on the Montreal Royals, we get our first real glimpse of Robinson in game action. The scenes in which Robinson is actually playing are works of cinematic perfection, helping the audience fall in love even more with the speedy infielder.
Though the film does suffer from occasional over-dramatics, the sheer quantity and qualities of tear-jerking twists and turns that Robinson and his loyal wife Rachel (Nicole Beharie) go through on their way to a 1947 National League pennant and Rookie of the Year award outweighs it all.
Personally, I rarely shed a tear in the movie theater regardless of the story line. But watching the tale of my personal hero play out so eloquently on the silver screen was gripping at my Dodger Blue heart. Judging by the raucous rounds of applause that broke out in the theater whenever Robinson overcame a tough situation, or the hooting and hollering in support of any white player who backed Robinson, it’s safe to say the film was an emotional catalyst for most.
Whether or not you follow baseball, this is a true American story about one of the most important heroes the world has ever met. Robinson did more than just play baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1940’s and 50’s–he was a beacon of hope during times of the heaviest racial tension for aspiring ball players everywhere. And Helgeland’s film does a fine job of honoring that legacy.
I went to a screening in the heart of downtown San Francisco, and was joined by a large crowd of people in Dodgers gear. But on the way in, I passed, and exchanged excited smiles with, Giants fans, A’s fans, a Yankees fan and many more logo-less viewers. This phenomenon in itself is Robinson’s modern-day effect on the human race, and a life experience I won’t soon forget.
You know how the rest of the story goes. But blogging about the film and the incredible performances of Boseman, Ford and Beharie can’t possibly do it justice. There isn’t an excuse I can accept for not seeing 42 this opening weekend, and you’ll thank me when you do so.
– Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman)