By-the-Numbers 42 Still Hits for the Cycle
- Thursday, April 11, 2013
DVD Release Date: July 16, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: April 12, 2013
Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements including language
Run Time: 128 min.
Director: Brian Helgeland
Actors: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Behari, Christopher Melonie, John C. McGinley, Ryan Merriman, Lucas Black
The pressure on the makers of 42—the story of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American player in the major leagues—was great. The film would need to honor a story sacred to baseball fans and history buffs. Could they bring Robinson’s story to life without falling into drab stereotypes, portraying Robinson as strong rather than subservient to all-white league players and officials? Could they let Robinson’s inspirational accomplishments speak for themselves, without taking on the tone of a powder-keg racial drama? And would they be able to sidestep Hollywood’s tendency to tell important stories of African-American triumph through the eyes of a Caucasian lead character? (Read more about the making of the movie here.)
42 doesn’t avoid every possible pitfall. Although it includes a breakout lead performance from Chadwick Boseman as Robinson (the actor is primarily known—if known at all—for his work on TV), it also includes Harrison Ford (Cowboys & Aliens) in the key supporting role of Brooklyn Dodgers' General Manager Branch Rickey. That bit of casting is commercially savvy—a huge (if aging) star that should ensure a racially diverse audience for 42—but risks emphasizing Rickey’s against-the-grain boldness over Robinson’s athleticism and determination.
Those are real concerns for how 42 will be perceived. Rickey’s story is as prominent as Robinson’s, and that may understandably put off viewers who want to know more about Robinson’s accomplishments. The film also chooses to end early in Robinson’s career, packing the rest of Robinson’s accomplishments into a closing-moments wrap-up. However, if the audience reaction at the recent preview screening is any indication, the filmmakers’ balancing act will prove satisfying to most viewers.
The film opens in 1945, with a reminder that black veterans of World War II returned to an America to face racism, segregation and Jim Crow laws. Rickey, GM of the Dodgers, knows it’s time for things to change. He decides it’s time for a baseball player to join the all-white National League rather than the Negro Leagues, and he chooses to recruit Robinson to his minor league team in Montreal. If all goes as planned, that sting will lead to a starting position for Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Rickey faces instant skepticism from team officials who warn him about the trashing Rickey will get in the press, but Rickey is motivated to some degree by a divine calling. "Robinson’s a Methodist. I’m a Methodist. God’s a Methodist," he says. He orders that Robinson be brought into the organization.
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