Jack Roosevelt Robinson (played by Chadwick Boseman) is most noted for being the first black Major League Baseball player. He was a sign of hope to many in the black community, young and old. The movie touches on the events and the struggles he had to endure in order to earn the game-changing honor of being a black man in a white man’s sport.
Writer/director Helgeland wrote Robin Hood, Man on Fire, The Taking of Pelham 123 and Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant, to name a few. As a writer Helgeland can be hit-or-miss; for every great film he writes, there is a Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.
Thankfully, Helgeland’s take on Jackie Robinson isn’t a miss.
From a director standpoint, Helgeland successfully harkens back to a tense time when a group of drunken white men was more of a fearful sight than a bunch of gang members. The white men had the law on their side at the time.
Visually, Helgeland sends up a nice postcard of the black communities in Florida. It appears that many blacks enjoyed gorgeous houses in quiet neighborhoods and dressed up for every occasion.
Even though race tensions were what they were back in the late 1940s, blacks still took pride in their appearance, whether personal or the appearance of their homes. It does become apparent, however, that Helgeland used the same house to represent four different houses. Despite being shot at different angles to give the illusion of multiple houses, it is still obvious. But that’s a minor point.
Boseman, who’s paid his dues with guest spots on many television series since 2003, made sure he was prepared for his role, down to his physique. And Boseman has the moxie to pull off Robinson. It takes a strong person to endure racial slurs and threats from team members, fans and the general public and not react. Not many people could do that. Boseman is one to watch.
The same goes for Nicole Beharie, who plays Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s wife. Beharie, who sometimes acts with her lips, gives her best performance to date. Beharie is no stranger to playing historical women; she also was Ernie Davis’ girlfriend in The Express.
After seeing her go nutso in Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day, it’s evident that she is capable of stretching those acting muscles. She just has to keep in mind that the best acting happens when the actor loses him- or herself in the character, not the character lost inside the actor.
Harrison Ford as the Brooklyn Dodgers’ top executive, Branch Rickey, gives a great performance as a Methodist trying to do one last good deed before retirement.
Rickey is the man who conceptualizes the idea of a black man in Major League Baseball and does whatever it takes to see it through. He is the driving force who gets Jackie to be what he needs to be, so that he can leave a mark on young boys (white and black) who will look up to not only a great black man, but a great baseball player.
As a movie, 42 is also a love letter to baseball, depicting a time of change for the better. Robinson may not have been a civil rights activist doing sit-ins and demonstrations at that time. But having the strength, courage and determination to stand by himself and turn the other cheek on racism was just as impactful.
The best takeaway from 42, other than giving honor to such a great man, is to remember the sacrifices of those who came before us, so that we do not repeat this history.