The 411 on “42”
42, the story of Jackie Robinson’s rookie season for the Brooklyn Dodgers, looks like a Norman Rockwell illustration come to life, as I say in my first review for WHYY about this unashamedly old-school biopic.
It stars relative newcomer Chadwick Boseman as Robinson — 42 was the number on the ballplayer’s Dodgers jersey — and it doesn’t hurt the cause that Boseman bats, runs and slides like an actual ballplayer. And he does such a convincing job swallowing the bile Robinson must have felt when he was race-baited or told he couldn’t sleep in the same hotel as his white teammates that I thought I was going to get acid reflux just by watching him.
Walking in, I was disappointed that I wasn’t going to see Spike Lee’s Jackie Robinson movie. From the trailers, I was afraid it was going to focus more on Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford in a cigar- and scenery-chewing performance), the Dodgers owner whose recruitment of Robinson integrated the majors. While Robinson’s relationship with Rickey (no relation to me, by the way) is one of the film’s plotlines in Brian Helgeland’s film. More moving is Robinson’s loving marriage with his wife, Rachel (Nicole Beharie, wonderful) and his shotgun marriage to teammates like Pee Wee Reese and Ralph Branca. I was surprised how emotionally overwhelmed I was, but good performances, an inspiring story, the Norman Rockwell imagery and the swelling horns sure worked me over.
This is the story of Robinson from 1945–1947, told with the political consciousness of that period. This is not the reflective account of the ballplayer who said from the consciousness of his 1971 memoir that he had only been an actor in the script written by Rickey and he knew he was a black man in white America. This is not the story of how Branch Rickey killed the Negro Leagues. (For these perspectives on Robinsson, you can read his memoir, I Never Had it Made or Dave Zirin’s Five Fears about the Jackie Robinson movie.)
I liked 42. And am curious to know what you think.