Last week as most of you know, the world lost one of the most respected movie critics, Roger Ebert. As I sat watching “42“, the biopic of Jackie Robinson, I found myself wondering what would Mr. Ebert think about this film. Would he applaud with the audience, and give it his endorsement, or pick it apart like he’s done to countless others? I have a no idea what his impression would be, nor was I a regular reader of his reviews. However, I felt sad as I watched a film about an American hero and one of this country’s greatest sports, while reflecting on the loss of another icon.
There are very few movies I’ve seen, since I’ve started writing reviews, that I felt were so good, I worried if my words could do it justice. This was one of those films. In Warner Brothers “42″ Chadwick Boseman stars as Jackie Robinson, the first major league black ball player. While Harrison Ford covered in heavy makeup, wearing a fat suit and wig, plays the crusty and stubborn, Branch Rickey, General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The film starts in 1945 with segregation and racism, an accepted way of life across the United States. Branch Rickey has decided he wants to shake up the world and cross racial lines by bringing up a Negro ball player to integrate baseball, making it more profitable for the team. Combing through stacks of files looking for the right player, he chooses Jack Roosevelt Robinson, a shortstop playing for the Kansas City Monarchs.
Robinson wasn’t the most talented player in the lot, but Rickey wanted someone with talent, heart, and the ability to endure the hatred inflicted by other team mates and fans. As he tells Robinson in his office, “We win if the world is convinced of two things, that you are a fine gentleman and a great baseball player.” But one of the most memorable lines of the film, is when Robinson asks if he wants someone afraid to fight back.
Rickey responds “No! I want a player that’s got the guts NOT to fight back.”
Just wanting to play ball, Robinson keeps his head down and works his way from the Montreal farm team, to being signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers. His future teammates are madder than hell about playing alongside Robinson, and join together to sign a petition. Robinson wasn’t just unwelcome, but his normal short stop position wasn’t open, so he had to be re-trained to play at first base.
Playing on a team with no friends, in a game where he wasn’t wanted, and being forced to stay in local homes instead of with his team at hotels, were just a few of the easier challenges he faced. His resolve is put to the test when heckled by Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) with taunting and racial slurs that will make you uncomfortable and embarrassed of our country’s heritage.
My favorite scene of the movie is when the team is warming up on the field and Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black), comes over to Robinson, throws his arm around his shoulder, and shows his family and the world that they are equals.
Pee Wee Reese says “Maybe tomorrow we’ll all wear 42, that way they won’t tell us apart.”
Both Ford and Boseman both brought their characters to life with raw and powerful emotion in their roles. I’m a huge Harrison Ford fan, but this is his most impressive performance in years. As the credits rolled, I wanted to stand up and cheer, for an entertaining movie, an American hero, and because through America’s favorite pastime, our world changed for the better.
Regardless of whether you’re a sports fan, or don’t know the difference between the infield and the outfield, this movie is an important part of history, that anyone will enjoy. I think Ford summed it up well in a recent interview with eonline.com, “The things that are noble about America are really represented in this movie.”
In memory of legendary critic, Roger Ebert, I say two thumbs-up! “42″ opens in theaters everywhere on April 12. “Like” 42 on Facebook to learn more about the film or join the conversation on Twitter @wbpictures #42movie.
I attended a press screening of this film to facilitate this review. All opinions are mine.