Chadwick Boseman (The Kill Hole, The Express) portrays baseball legend Jackie Robinson in 42, the dramatic biography that relates his story and that of Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey (Oscar® nominee Harrison Ford) who signed Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers in the late 1940s. I highly anticipated viewing the film ever since I first saw the trailer, and it is even better than I had expected.
The film, written and directed by Brian Helgeland (A Knight’s Tale), is inspired by this time in history and incorporates elements of life, from humor to drama. It includes scenes that turned my stomach just from hearing how people in the stadium and other ball clubs spewed such horrible things to a man who had served his country in World War II and had returned as a commissioned officer. He was a talented ball player, but society at that time was such that they only saw color first. Definite lines were drawn as to where people of color were not allowed to cross over. There were not only lines, but huge signs.
I admire Helgeland for writing into the story how a young boy is attending a ball game with an adult and appears very happy and enthusiastic. Soon after arriving, he sees how all the adults spewing racial slurs when #42 appears on the ball field. As the camera comes in close to the child’s face, he too starts to hurl the slurs. Children mimic what they see and this is perfect example captures that. Some viewers may not like this scene in the film for varied reasons, but this and other points are well made about the topic.
The performances by all the cast are outstanding (of course, Ford) and one in particular for Boseman stands out for me, as the star ball player is away from the team and the public who has insulted him. Alone with a baseball bat in hand, he vents and takes out his frustrations. Boseman’s performance in that scene is one that I will not soon forget as he totally and realistically conveys the emotions. Ford’s character too, as gruff as he sounds, also does his best to ground him again and back in the game. The scene is beautifully shot by cinematographer Don Burgess.
Hamish Linklater has quickly become one of my favorite actors in the last few years, from television (Ugly Betty and The New Adventures of Old Christine, among others) to films including The Future and Lola Versus. Linklater portrays Ralph Branca, Robinson’s teammate and adds a wonderful dose of humor with the lines that the screenwriter created.
All in all, this is a great film to catch this opening weekend or as soon as possible in the theater. It is a reminder of where our society was several decades ago, where we are now and what we do not want to go back to.