Film highlights struggles of Jackie Robinson

Published 10:02 am Friday, April 19, 2013

 by Lauren Bradshaw

“42,” written and directed by Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential), tells the true story of baseball legend Jackie Robinson’s (played by Chadwick Boseman) struggle to break the color barrier in professional baseball. As foreshadowed in the title (42 was Robinson’s baseball jersey number), the film is not a complete biopic. It instead focuses on the difficult years from 1945-1947 when Robinson was called up from the Negro baseball league to play for the all-white Brooklyn Dodgers. The Dodgers’ executive, Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), chose Robinson because he was a tough player who could be the pioneer for integration in major league baseball. Rickey’s only request was that Robinson maintain his cool even when faced with angry crowds shouting nasty, racist things; as hard as it may be, Robinson needed to set the example.

If you are interested in learning more about Jackie Robinson the man, beware. “42” focuses primarily on the racism Robinson faced during his rookie year with the Dodgers, not on the story of his entire life. Robinson had to deal with prejudice not only from the public but also amongst teammates, umpires, and the opposing team. One scene in particular shows the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies screaming racial epithets (including a Django Unchained level usage of the n-word) at Robinson for a good five minutes while he is up to bat. The hate-filled speech and Jackie’s inability to put the man in his place leads to one of the most upsetting scenes I’ve seen in a long time.

The awe-inspiring bravery of Robinson to play in such a hostile environment, during a time when discrimination and segregation were the norm, is a worthy story that needs to be told. However, I would have appreciated getting to know a little more about the man himself. Were there other conflicts in his life besides battling racism? I would have liked to see “42” take an approach more like A League of Their Own, where the conflict involving discrimination in baseball is expertly woven throughout the plot while still allowing the audience to learn more about the main characters. For example, along with sexism, the women in A League of Their Own had to deal with their own personal struggles (relationships, death, etc…). “42,” however, portrays Robinson more as a flawless hero than a real person. In fact, there is only one scene where we see Jackie finally break down because he cannot fight back against his detractors.

Despite the fact that Robinson isn’t fully developed in the film, Boseman does a fantastic job in the role. He plays Robinson with as much emotion as the script allows; I only wish I could have seen more of his emotional range. Boseman is totally believable as a baseball player. At times I forgot that I was watching an actor and thought I was watching an actual professional. Harrison Ford also does a great job playing Branch Rickey. The wise advice and constant support Rickey gives Robinson throughout the film is extremely heartwarming. Not to mention Ford’s over-the-top, cartoonish performance and fantastic one-liners provide the film some great comedic relief. Also, don’t miss John C. McGinley (Scrubs) as a hilarious baseball announcer.

“42” is definitely a film everyone should see, not only to appreciate the struggles of Jackie Robinson, but to appreciate all of the nameless people who also had to deal with discrimination. Though the plot was extremely predictable, you would have to have a cold heart not to be inspired and extremely appreciative of the sacrifices this man made in the quest for racial equality.

My Review: B-