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Saturday, 13 April 2013 21:38

'42' honors the great Jackie Robinson

'42' honors the great Jackie Robinson criterionpic.com
Written by Diane Carson
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About this Media...

  • Director: Brian Helgeland
  • Dates: Opens April 12, 2013

Jack Roosevelt Robinson, his landmark contribution to baseball and his legacy, is legend to every sports fan and civil rights historian. But there's something about a well-made film, even a very conventional one, that makes a profound impact, even if it simplifies, as any two-hour film must, the complexity of the man and the events.

Breaking the color divide in baseball in 1947 proved not only unprecedented but also dangerous. Writer/director Brian Helgeland, of "L.A. Confidential" fame, does a nice job of presenting the appalling situation while not sensationalizing the ugliness. It benefits from its calm delivery, though in a few scenes I'd certainly have welcomed more bite and complexity. Nevertheless, the story is amazing.

The story begins with excellent archival footage that segues into Spring 1945 and Brooklyn Dodgers' general manager and president Branch Rickey announcing that he's going to bring "a Negro ball player" to the Dodgers. Reporter Wendell Smith serves as viewers' surrogate as Robinson moves from the Kansas Monarchs to the Montreal Royals to the Dodgers through 1947, that watershed year. Team dynamics, some fans' repulsive racism, baseball's morality, and the desire to cash in--all figure into the unfolding tale. The music goes for sentimental inflection when it doesn't need to, and yet I was deeply moved by the reminders of how far we've come, and I was buoyed by the courage of those who brought us here.

Chadwick Boseman as Jackie and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey play well off each other. Nicole Beharie as Jackie's wife Rachel brings a sweet energy. All the supporting players give good performances as well, leaving me, in every instance, wanting to know more about his or her story, how they negotiated the turmoil. I guess that's the sign of a good film, even one as committed to exposing the pervasive racism so recently holding sway in our national pastime. At area cinemas.

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