“42” is a Home Run

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“42” is a Home Run

By Danny Thompson

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“You’ve gotta beat them at their own game,” go the lyrics from the song “Jackie Robinson” by Everclear. The movie “42” tells the story of how Robinson did just that, fighting and overcoming racism in America by becoming one baseball’s premier players. This is the story that “42” tells, and tells it better than any other could, but that is as far as the movie goes. For a movie that takes Robinson’s number as its title, there is surprisingly little on who Robinson was as a person, or his career following the 1947 season.

In his first starring role in a major motion picture, Chadwick Boseman delivers a captivating and truthful performance as Jackie Robinson, while Harrison Ford shines as Branch Rickey, the most progressive man in baseball. Admittedly, it was a little strange at first to hear Han Solo talking to me about baseball, but Ford is the perfect fit in Rickey’s role. He carries the gruff, cigar-smoking swagger of a baseball executive, but at the same time brings out a warmth and compassion that allow him to connect with Robinson and earn his trust.

The story starts with narration from journalist Wendell Smith (Andre Holland) who has been assigned to cover Robinson’s breaking into Major League Baseball. Smith follows Robinson throughout the movie, acting as his chauffeur and eventually befriending the reserved Robinson. The movie covers Robinson’s career in the minors, but focuses mainly on the Dodger’s 1947 season, Robinson’s first in the Majors. The main antagonists in the film are initially Robinson’s own teammates, but Robinson soon wins them over one by one. Robinson is also challenged by Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) who climbs out of the dugout whenever #42 is up to bat and screams racial slurs.

One scene that showcases both Boseman’s and Ford’s acting talents takes place in a stadium tunnel, following a poor at bat by Robinson. Robinson has been being constantly harassed by Chapman when he goes into the tunnel and smashes his bat out of pure frustration. Boseman delivers here, and brings Robinson’s fiery personality to life. During his breakdown, Branch Rickey finds him and talks him back onto the field, reminding him what he is fighting for and giving him the strength to go on. Robinson proceeds to head back onto the field and crush a home run. Ford’s age is what makes him perfect for this role. Although he can no longer fight stormtroopers, he can give inspiration better than ever.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and would recommend it to all, I have to say that it simplified Robinson’s character and romanticized the whole event. There was not enough tension in a film that chronicles one of the most tense pieces of American history. Scenes like the one above were few and far between, but when they did appear they added a lot to the story. As I mentioned earlier, “42” doesn’t do a great job of teaching us about Jackie Robinson. It simply tells us what he did. It only shows Robinson struggle twice at the plate, both times after having the N word hurled at him by Chapman. While this movie isn’t meant to be biographical, I think adding a little more depth to Robinson’s character (he was a real person after all) would have allowed the movie to hit a true home run.

 

Run time: 120 minutes

Rated PG-13