Film Review: 42
In 2013, Brian Helgeland released the biographical sports film 42, based off the integration into professional baseball by Jackie Robinson. Starring Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Alan Tudyk, Nicole Beharie, Christopher Meloni, Andre Holland, Lucas Black, Hamish Linklater, and Ryan Merriman, the film grossed 97.5 million at the box office. It also earned $27.3 million its opening weekend, making it the best premiere for a baseball-themed film in Hollywood. Praised by Rachel Robinson who was involved in production of the film, it also recreated old baseball fields, such as Ebbets Field, Shibe Park, Crosley Field and Forbes Field using old photographs, blueprints and digital imagery.
Recruited by Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Ricky, Jackie Robinson becomes the first African-American player on a major league baseball team, following his spending some time in the minor leagues. However, along the way, he struggles against the racism and segregation of the time as well as backlash from his own teammates.
Historically accurate for the most part, 42 is a very well-made film that thrives off how well done its major characters are. For one, there’s Robinson himself. He gets an establishing character moment early on when it’s shown that he’s not going to take racism and segregation passively when trying to enter a white’s only bathroom at a gas station. However, it also shows that he’s not going to do anything stupid either, instead meeting the racism with the declaration that they’re going to gas up somewhere else, which makes the attendant relent. It shows that later on, he’s not going to “meet the enemy on his own low ground,” as Branch Ricky says when hiring Robinson. And he sticks to that character throughout the rest of the film. Instead of punching Ben Chapman for his racist tirade when going up to bat, Robinson instead breaks down in the dugout and then decides to answer with a big game. Further, when spiked by another player in a different game, one of the players tells the pitcher to aim for the head and Robinson responds and tells him to just strike him out. It shows how much of a bigger person Robinson was than the people that insulted and tore him down.
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Branch Ricky. Initially, he seems very greed-driven, citing that he only wants to hire Robinson because it will make him a lot of money. However, looking into that scene, it comes off as if he’s deflecting the question as to why and has other underlying reasons for his wanting to hire an African-American. There is. And it’s a particularly noble reason that has to do with what happened before World War II broke out. Branch wanted to recruit an exceptionally talented African American player, but wasn’t able to because of segregation and it ruined his love for the game. However, it shows how determined he is throughout the film as he’s completely driven to make sure Robinson succeeds. And though the film could partially be seen as something akin to White Man’s Burden, with him always close behind to support him or shoot down objections, it really doesn’t feel like that accusation is justified as he loves the game, wants to hire Robinson and wanted to hire the other guy based on talent. Further, since he’s the general manager, he should be the one to shoot down objections and support his players.
But though the film is done very well and gives great characterization, there are some historical inaccuracies laden throughout the story. For one, Robinson is shown proposing to Rachel after signing the contract when he had done it a few years prior when he was still in the army. Further, the Dodgers’ 1947 Spring Training was held in Havana, Cuba and not in Panama City, Panama. There are a few more, which deal with the Pirates’ pitcher actually hitting Robinson on the wrist and claimed it was without any racist intent and a fight on the mound didn’t happen afterward either. However, even with the historical inaccuracies, none of them are so major as to take away from any enjoyment of the film.
Yet, there is one scene that didn’t need to have been added to drive the point home that racism is wrong. During the Cincinnati game, a kid in the stands learns racism from his father and then sees that it’s wrong when Pee Wee puts his arm around Jackie. Granted, the kid’s acting is phenomenal, but it’s really just padding for a film that’s already got a lot of points about the stupidity of racism. One of which being the fact that the pitchers keep hitting Robinson, who was noted for stealing bases. Their racist stupidity made it easier for one of the best known base-stealers in a position to do so.
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