I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest fan of baseball, but I’ve always been interested in the underdog stories in sports. I’ve always had a soft spot for the guy no one’s rooting for, the guy everyone wants to see fail, and then out of nowhere, he proves everyone wrong in spectacular fashion. Jackie Robinson was that kind of person, being the first African-American baseball player to break the color barrier and play in the MLB. Brian Helgeland’s “42” is a well-crafted tribute to the life and times of one of America’s greatest sports heroes.
“You Will Remember Me”
“42” is a biopic of Jackie Robinson’s life from his time in small league teams to his induction to the Brooklyn Dodgers. The film also chronicles his struggles with the oppression and racial segregation on and off the field that was so present during his time. The star of “42” is of course Jackie Robinson, played by the relatively-unknown Chadwick Boseman. Though Boseman isn’t exactly on Hollywood’s A-list, his performance in “42” is sure to see him become an up-and-comer, much like the character he so emotionally, passionately and powerfully portrays.
More Than Just a Sports Film
As previously mentioned, Robinson faced oppression and contempt on and off the field, and this film portrays both of those difficult elements quite well. When he was on the field, the spectators booed him and the players on the opposing team, as well as his own, did not feel as though he belonged, despite his obvious skill at the sport. When he was off the field, he was refused bus tickets, accommodations and even found his personal safety in jeopardy, and the film shows just how much Robinson had to endure from almost everyone around him to become the legend we know today. The film also delves into his personal life and doesn’t shy away from the fact that Robinson had a quick temper. There is a scene where, during a game, Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk), manager of the opposing team, unleashes a viciously racist verbal attack against Robinson every time he goes up to bat just to get a reaction out of him and Robinson retreats to the dugout where he destroys his bat in a fit of rage, knowing he can’t publicly lose his temper lest he get an even worse reputation.
The film also sports (see what I did there?) a great supporting cast featuring Harrison Ford as MLB executive Branch Rickey, Lucas Black as Dodgers teammate “Pee Wee” Reese, and Andre Holland as Wendell Smith, a notable African-American sportswriter and friend of Robinson. Ford’s portrayal of the hard-as-nails Rickey was my second-favourite performance of the film as it was, historically, Rickey’s idea to draft an African-American into the MLB. Rickey acts as an encouraging mentor to Robinson over the course of the film. I also really enjoyed Black’s performance as “Pee Wee” Reese, as he was immediately the first member of the Dodgers to fully accept and respect Robinson’s presence on their team while everyone else petitioned to have him removed.
“Maybe One Day We’ll All Wear ‘42’”
Overall, I very much enjoyed “42” and even learned a little bit about baseball history through the various stats and stories the film tossed out. While it may seem like your run-of-the-mill sports movie, “42” is more of a story about one man’s struggle to achieve greatness while facing the innumerable amount of obstacles in his path. Though the film does play it safe on a couple of bases, the message of acceptance and strength-through-struggle is strongly conveyed and thanks largely to a powerhouse performance from Boseman, “42” will hopefully be as memorable as the man it depicts.