Jackie Robinson: I’ll duck.
In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier in major league baseball. Before he set foot on the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Ebbets Field, black baseball players were limited to playing in what was called the Negro League. He was a brave man who was chosen for a greater purpose, to help America move forward with its ongoing civil rights struggles, in hopes that healing could happen through the country’s love of the sport. His is a serious story that must have been incredibly difficult to bear, which has now been properly polished and given the Hollywood treatment with Brian Helgeland’s 42.
I’m certain that this story was far more sordid and than what Helgeland implies but, 42 is just not that movie, which isn’t such a bad thing. Robinson, as played in the film by relative unknown, Chad Boswick, must have endured an incredible amount of insult and violence and prejudice. All of this is present in 42 but it is designed to pull the deepest emotional response possible from the audience. My not being an expert on the subject, nor having lived through Robinson’s meteoric rise to the top of the major leagues, make it very difficult for me to say what was left out or what was changed for the purposes of the film. All the same, it is very easy to feel that you are in fact the whole time being guided toward a very specific and calculated emotional response.
With that being said, I will admit to fully falling for everything Helgeland was setting me up for in 42. Boswick, along with supporting players, Harrison Ford, as Brooklyn Dodgers owner, Branch Ricky, the man who gave Robinson his shot, as well as Nicole Beharie, who plays Robinson’s wife, Rachel, are all solid in their roles. And if the acting is not distracting, then all the dots that are being connected come together to paint a pretty effective picture of what the desegregation of baseball must have been like. It doesn’t matter so much that you know you are being manipulated when you finally see Robinson get the respect he deserves from his team, and subsequently his country. In fact, it’s pretty difficult to care at all about that when you’re crying pretty hard while it’s happening.