Chadwick Boseman delivers a strong performance as Jackie Robinson’s story comes to the screen in biopic form in 42: The Jackie Robinson Story.
There are some biographical errors in 42 but I’m willing to let it slide because of how important this story is. Robinson broke the Major League Baseball color barrier in 1947. In doing so, he became a hero to many people. Even now, watching the film in 2021, there’s still that heroic quality to discussing Robinson. Who better to play the Hall of Fame ballplayer than Chadwick Boseman? Boseman died over a year ago following a quiet battle with cancer but he displays the grace of a hero on screen. Mind you, this film is before he took up the Black Panther mantle as T’challa. In watching the film on Thursday, it’s a sad reminder of just how much talent we lost with his tragic death last year. If you own the film on Blu-ray, watch the bonus features to see the work that Boseman puts into the performance.
Maybe its because I’m from Louisville but one of the most emotional moments comes when Hall of Fame short stop “Pee Wee” Reese (Lucas Black) stands with his arm around Jackie Robinson’s (Chadwick Boseman) shoulders at Crosley Field. Reese came from Louisville so he had family in attendance at Crosley Field at the time. Like many ballparks, Robinson dealt with the hostility but it took Reese to rise up and make a public display of solidarity. Growing up, I always heard about Pee Wee Reese and what he did for Robinson. In fact, there’s a Reese statue outside of Louisville Slugger Field.
We all know Jackie’s story so I don’t feel the need to rehash the plot. The film shows the pivotal moments that we need to see. But again, the script takes some dramatic liberties in telling Robinson’s story. For the most part, it’s authentic storytelling.
Harrison Ford makes the complete transition into then-Dodgers GM Branch Rickey. It’s a heck of a transition and the film wouldn’t work without Ford going 100% in the role. Ford delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as the Hall of Fame executive. Personally, I’d have given the fifth Oscars slot to Ford and not Jared Leto. Next to Boseman himself, Ford’s work in the film is one of the best things about it.
It’s impressive to see how they bring Ebbets Field back through modern technology. This film takes place in 1945-47 Brooklyn so this meant a lot of green screen during the ballgames. With the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn for Los Angeles in 1957, it means having to get creative since Ebbets Field is no longer standing. The appropriately named Jackie Roosevelt Apartments stand on the site today. This required major work with a green screen at Chattanooga’s Engel Stadium but they did the job. Some scenes were also shot at historic Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama. Recreating the time period is not an easy feat but somebody has to do it!
Like any biopic, we learn what happens to the major players at the end of the film. If you’re a baseball fan, you know it before the text pops up. However, I must say the part that never gets old is how Ben Chapman was fired in 1948 and never managed again.
Baseball needed Jackie Robinson in order to make progress in the game. His breaking the barrier was a moment that baseball needed. If it weren’t Branch Rickey making the decision, it would probably have been another GM. Robinson wasn’t just playing baseball for the Dodgers. If Robinson failed, it meant that Rickey would have failed. Without Robinson, we wouldn’t have the likes of Hank Aron, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ernie Banks, Larry Doby, etc. The list of players honestly goes on and on. There may be other members living in baseball immortality at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown but only Jackie Robinson’s 42 is retired in all of baseball. Nobody will ever wear the number again except for Jackie Robinson Day.
While some players might not have been happy, Robinson’s arrival was a game-changer. The Brooklyn Dodgers went on to win the National League pennant six times between 1947-1956. Their only World Series championship came in 1955. City politics forced the Dodgers to Los Angeles as owner Walter O’Malley was unwilling to relocate the team to a city-owned site in Queens. Nor would he come to an agreement with New York City Building Commissioner Robert Moses.
42 is more than just a baseball movie but the story of a hero.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Brian Hegeland
CAST: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie, Christopher Meloni, Andre Holland, Alan Tudyk, Lucas Black, Hamish Linklater, Brett Cullen, Ryan Merriman
Warner Bros. released 42 in theaters on April 12, 2013.
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