Movie: Strong acting and plot knock ‘42’ out of the park

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Nathan Desai

Only one number is retired by every Major League Baseball team: 42. However, every year on April 15, all players wear this sacred number in honor of the date of Jackie Robinson’s revolutionary major league debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Released on the weekend of the 66th anniversary of the Hall-of-Famer’s first appearance in Major League Baseball, “42” is only the second film to be produced about the life of the American legend. In 1950, Jackie Robinson starred as himself in the biopic “The Jackie Robinson Story,” and after 63 years, his widow Rachel Robinson finally agreed to allow another.

Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) confronts the press before his first spring training game. One of the key storylines of “42” is how the media and general public hastily respond to the rookie’s inclusion in Major League Baseball. Source: Warner Bros.

“42” revolves around the true story of Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) and the challenges he faces as he becomes the first black player in Major League Baseball during the discriminatory and racist 1940s. The film also explores how Jackie’s rookie season affects then Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), Jackie’s wife Rachel Robinson (Nicole Beharie), reporter Wendell Smith (Andre Holland) and his teammates as they learn to adapt to the scrutiny of being associated with the most controversial figure in baseball.

Aside from Ford, the cast is comprised of mostly up-and-coming actors. Despite the largely unfamiliar cast, however, the acting in “42” is superb. Ford does an excellent job portraying Rickey’s faith and sympathy for Jackie Robinson. Boseman’s performance as the American hero is also spot-on. Not only is his appearance strikingly reminiscent to the Hall-of-Famer‘s, Boseman’s portrayal of Jackie’s anger and frustration feels genuine and realistic.

In one of the most memorable scenes of the film, Jackie storms out of the dugout after being hurled with racial slurs into an isolated hallway where he proceeds to yell and smash a bat to pieces out of rage. While Robinson lies on the ground sobbing, Rickey explains the importance of remaining calm while simultaneously comforting the rookie. This unforgettable scene showcases both of the lead actors’ exemplary performances in “42.”

The supporting actors and extras enhance the film as well. Robinson’s teammates slowly progress from refusing to play with him to defending him and instigating a fight when he gets hit in the head with a pitch. In one scene, his teammate and future Hall-of-Famer Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black) embraces the rookie while the racist, prejudiced Reese family watches from the stands.

However, the film isn’t completely heartwarming; in fact, most of it is gut-wrenching and horrifying. Due to the segregation and racism pervasive during the 1940s, the film stars a surplus of antagonists. Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) repeatedly calls Robinson the n-word while the rookie is at the plate. Many other fans call Jackie the same word, including a young boy following his father’s lead. Even though that specific word is used so many times, it still evokes a sick feeling due to each of these supporting actor’s accurate depiction of a cruel racist.

However, at a few moments, the film is somewhat cliche, and his love life seems like an unnecessary part of the film. Though Rachel’s support does help Jackie through his rookie season, her involvement detracts from the main plot. Jackie’s first contract is overshadowed by their wedding and even his first home run is practically rendered meaningless with the news of Rachel’s pregnancy. The few cheesy moments are overdone as the film changes into slow motion and melodramatic music plays in the background.

Even though the actors do deserve much of the credit, the real star of “42” is the plot. Jackie Robinson’s difficulty in his journey to overcome the color barrier in Major League Baseball takes the audience on an emotional rollercoaster. Realizing that the film is entirely based on true events makes the frustrating moments even more angering and the inspiring scenes even more satisfying. It doesn’t take a baseball fan to recognize the fortitude and perseverance Robinson must have had in order to play a “white man’s game.” And after 66 years, Jackie Robinson is still rightfully commended for being the first person to show that baseball is for anyone.