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Monday, April 22, 2013

Review: 42

Jackie Robinson Defies the Odds  

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: April 12, 2013 – U.S.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Biography, Drama, Sports
Running Time: 128 minutes
Director: Brian Helgeland
Writer: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, 
Nicole Beharie, Ryan Merriman, Lucas Black, 
T.R. Knight, Toby Huss, Christopher Meloni, 
Andre Holland, Alan Tudyk, Hamish Linklater, 
John C. McGinley, Max Gail, James Pickens Jr.

Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) faces racism and discrimination in almost every scene of "42." The never-ending litany of bigotry may initially seem repetitive, but its overall effect is downright chilling. You come to realize just how much pure, raw hatred Major League Baseball's first black player had to deal with – simply for the right to do his job. It gets so bad that even the mere introduction of a new white character in the film becomes an anxious and uncomfortable moment on par with the tensest thriller.

Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) desperately wants to turn his Brooklyn Dodgers around. He proposes a radical solution: a Negro ballplayer. His assistants (played by T.R. Knight and Toby Huss) are aghast. But Rickey won't be dissuaded. He wants to make money and win! Robinson can help him do both. Before then, black baseball players were restricted to their own separate Negro Leagues. Robinson will make history as the first to cross over into the whites-only Major Leagues as #42 for the Dodgers.

Harrison Ford goes out of his way to create a true character. He is made to look physically older and he has altered his facial expressions for the role. Certainly, no one can accuse Ford of playing himself. It's a complete transformation. His version of Mr. Rickey is a cute grandpa with spunk. He's understanding and sympathetic at the right moments but also tough-as-nails when he has to be.

In addition to the aforementioned T.R. Knight ("Grey's Anatomy"), the cast is comprised mostly of other top-notch TV veterans: Christopher Meloni ("Law and Order: SVU"), Andre Holland ("1600 Penn"), Alan Tudyk ("Firefly" and "Dollhouse"), Hamish Linklater ("The New Adventures of Old Christine"), John C. McGinley ("Scrubs"), Max Gail ("Barney Miller"), James Pickens Jr. ("Grey's"), and Peter Jurasik ("Babylon 5").

Former child stars Ryan Merriman ("The Deep End of the Ocean") and Lucas Black ("Sling Blade") play two of Robinson's teammates, Dixie Walker and Pee Wee Reese, respectively.

Nicole Beharie ("The Express") is also notable as Jackie's wife, Rachel Robinson.

Of the supporting actors, the two best performances probably come from Andre Holland and Alan Tudyk. Holland plays Wendell Smith, a black reporter who also becomes Robinson's friend, confidant, assistant, and even chauffeur. He faces challenges of his own. Holland infuses his character with just the right amount of admiration (for Robinson) and ambition (for himself). "Firefly" fan-favorite Tudyk portrays Ben Chapman, who both plays for and manages the Philadelphia Phillies. He's one of my favorite actors, but his character's racism is so vile and nauseating that I wanted to strangle him. I kept hoping someone in the movie would. It's impossible to stomach Chapman's disgusting behavior, but Tudyk's devotion to the role is easy to admire.

Where "42" really succeeds is in showing what the world was like in 1946 and 1947. It's one thing to read about separate bathrooms in a history book; this movie engulfs its audience with the toxic effects of that mindset and the toll it takes on Robinson, whom we come to care about deeply as the story progresses. Even some of his own teammates don't want to play with a "colored boy." But not all of them feel that way. The tide is turning. There's a touching scene near the end with #1 and #42 embracing on the field as teammates, friends, equals.  

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