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Move Over Bull Durham: A Review of the Movie "42"
A review of a movie that was a long time coming
As someone who has long regarded baseball as his favorite sport, and as an African American male, "42", written and directed by Brian Helgeland, was a movie that I - and I am sure milions of people of all ethnicities as well as black - have eagerly anticipated seeing for years.
This movie about Jackie Robinson and how he, in a partnership with Brooklyn Dodger owner Branch Rickey, integrated Major League Baseball in 1947 did not disappoint as Helgeland brilliantly brought to life not only the struggles that Jackie went through in the face of bigots, off the field as well as on, who would have rather roasted in hell with the devil himself than see a black man play on the same sacred big league diamonds as whites.
What particularly impressed me was the way the period of the 1940s was captured as far as look and atmosphere, especially with regards to the baseball scenes as if you didn't know any better, you would have thought that you were at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, or the Polo Grounds in New York City, or Forbes Field in Pittsburgh - that scenery, as well as the baseball action on the field - looked that real.
The actors portraying the main angtagonists were outstanding. Let's just tackle them one by one...
After the movie ended, I had one thought regarding Chadwick Boseman, who played Robinson:
"He's going to have a great career, and I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if this movie launched him onto the "A" list."
In his mannerisms, temperament, intelligence, and the way he articulated things, Boseman had Robinson down. One scene where I particularly felt this was when he was viciously taunted, called the "N" word and all kinds of vile racist things, during a game by the Philadelphia Phillies' manager Ben Chapman, played by Alan Tudyk.
After a particularly nasty bit of name-calling, Robinson went down into the steps leading from the dugout to the clubhouse and, well...if he had been hit by gamma rays before that time he would have turned into the Incredible Hulk, his anger and frustration was so pronouced as he broke his bat and screamed in misery, knowing that he couldn't show how he felt on the field due to his promising Branch Rickey that no matter what, he wouldn't fight back.
Speaking of Rickey, Harrison Ford - better known to previous generations as Han Solo and Indiana Jones - was as brilliant in the portrayal of the Dodgers' owner as Boseman was in playing Robinson, perhaps even more so as I overheard someone in the theater mention afterward that Ford perhaps deserved an Oscar nomination.
Ford needed to be excellent in portraying Rickey as the man had a crucial role in changing baseball from an all-white game to a true national pastime, and he, pardon the cliche, completely stepped up to the plate in showing how much of a partner he and Robinson were in this huge endeavor, giving him some much needed support when things got tough, which they often did during those 1946 and '47 seasons, which the film depicted.
As Jackie's wife Rachel, Nicole Beharie was excellent in her portrayal of someone who, to put it frankly, was the absolute rock that her husband deserately needed as in quite a few ways, they went through this baseball integration trial together.
One scene that depicted this was while traveling to spring training in Florida, Rachel, being from Pasadena, CA and not having experienced blatant Southern Jim Crow segregation, saw a "Whites Only" bathroom during a stop over in New Orleans and, after the initial shock, did her part for civil rights by walking right on in, the couple paying for it later when they were bumped off the connecting flight to Florida and were forced to take the bus - sitting in the back, of course - to get to where they were going.
As Pittsburgh Courier writer Wendell Smith, who was Jackie's companion and buffer during his time in Florida, Andre Holland did very well in playing someone whose job was the same as Rachel's; to have Jackie's back.
When Smith talked in the car as they were getting away from some racist attackers about how he couldn't sit in the press box while covering games, and about how it wasn't just about Jackie, that was a turning point in the story as the pioneer ballplayer understood at that point what was at stake - opening up opportunities for all Americans to pursue their dreams, not necessarily to just get African Americans into baseball.
THE BOTTOM LINE - MY OVERALL ASSESSMENT OF "42":
If you are a baseball fan who is very much into the history of the game, and if you are one of the many who are already familiar with Jackie Robinson's story and how significant his accomplishment was, then "42" is a very good movie, an extremely well done film that I highly recommend.
If, however, you have never really been into baseball or sports in general and only recognize Jackie Robinson as some guy who was the first black man to play baseball, or if you are a part of the Milllenial generation who wasn't close to being around when all of this happened, "42 " is a GREAT movie that absolutely MUST be seen, something that shows how America was as far as race issues and how blacks were largely regarded at one time.
Is "42" as good as "Bull Durham", the 1988 film starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins that is widely regarded as the best baseball movie ever made?
I wouldn't say that "42" is that exactly, but it is certainly up there with "Bull Durham" as a movie about the American pastime that is - dare I say it - an extremely good one if not an absolute great one.
And unlike the 1988 diamond classic, it depicts a true story that's an integral part of 20th century U.S. history.
In other words, it definitely deserves to go on the top ten list of all-time great baseball films, if not the top five.
If you want to see for yourself, be sure to catch "42" as it has recently opened.
And to wet your appetite, here's the official trailer for what promises to be a beloved movie: