Sunday, April 28, 2013

42 - The Story of Jackie Robinson

"42" tells the story of iconic baseball player Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play in the previously white-only major leagues. He was famously the man to break the color line, thanks to the determination of forward-thinking Branch Rickey, manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was the beginning of the civil rights era. But that was unknown at the time.

Rickey (Harrison Ford, almost unrecognizable at the beginning of the movie) discovers the talent of Robinson and plucks him in 1945 from the Negro Leagues to play for the minor league Montreal Royals. Robinson (played by TV actor, producer, director but little-known movie actor Chadwick Boseman) soon becomes part of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Look for Boseman in many more movies to come. He was superb.

Determined to integrate professional baseball, Rickey tells Robinson "I want a player with the guts not to fight back." It's a daunting task. If he responded to the abuse he received, he'd be seen as a troublemaker. Robinson is met with vicious 1947 racism, booing crowds, and teammates who are, to say the least, unwelcoming. Robinson's fellow Dodgers, many of them Southern boys, sign a petition to have him kicked off.

In one painful five-minute rant, the Philadelphia Phillies manager (after making it known they didn't want the Dodgers playing in Philly) subjects Robinson to filthy insults, including repeated use of the N word. Throughout the movie you see segregated public bathrooms and water fountains. It's shocking to see the sign "colored."

Robinson meets all the abuse by playing the game. With a lifetime batting average of.311, approaching the amazing.367 of Ty Cobb, Jackie Robinson hits home runs and fearlessly steals bases, including one fantastic moment of stealing home. He also ducks deliberate pitches to the head and is once beaned, falling to the ground. He knew it was expected.

"42" was written and directed by Brian Helgeland (who wrote L.A. Confidential and directed A Knight's Tale), and makes this an enjoyable movie rather than what could have been a boring biopic. The story includes Robinson's loving relationship with his wife, Rachel (Nicole Beharie), who's on his side but nervous about his career. In small parts you'll recognize Christopher Meloni (Law & Order), T.R. Knight and James Pickens Jr. (Grey's Anatomy) and Max Gail (the long-ago Barney Miller).

Robinson's number, 42, is the only one retired from all of baseball. Once a year all baseball players wear the number 42.

Whether or not you like baseball or baseball movies, "42" is a moving story of courage and heroism.

The story of Jackie Robinson shows courage, determination and unquestioned ability. Robinson's talent on the baseball field proved his worthiness as the first African-American player for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the major leagues.

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