Reviewed By

Christopher Armstead
I am told that my late grandfather, Gerald C. Horne Sr., played for the St. Louis Stars of the Negro Baseball league, and I have no reason to doubt this since Hall of Fame baseball player James 'Cool Papa' Bell, my grandfather's teammate, often came to my grandparents house for dinner.  This was the early seventies and I was just a real little boy at the time so the fact that this legendary baseball player was sitting at our dinner table eating food I'm sure was meant for me, meant very little at the time, but those old men could tell some stories of the road, I tell you.   Such as when Mr. Bell told us my grandpa was so slow, that if the ball stayed in the park that more than likely he'd be thrown out at first base, to which gramps pointed out that's why the ball rarely stayed in the park.  They also told me stories about one Jack Roosevelt Robinson, among other legends, my grandfather long since retired before Mr. Robinson showed up but Mr. Bell played with him, even coached him.  Those were good stories and it was a good time to be six years old.  This brings us to the Warner Brothers biopic '42' which tells the story of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier of Major League baseball.  Chances are if you are over thirty and have even a remote knowledge of baseball, '42' isn't telling you anything about the man or the time or the story that you don't already know, but that being said, Brian Helgeland's film still plays all the right notes at the right time and makes for a fine tribute to both Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey.

Brooklyn Dodger owner Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), seeing neither black nor white, only green, has come to the conclusion that Black people like baseball too and they would probably come to his stadium in greater numbers if there was a black player on his team.  Seems logical to me.  So against the advice of pretty much everybody on the planet Earth, Mr. Rickey has chosen this time in American history to set about integrating Major League
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Baseball.  His choice, a fiery young shortstop playing for the Kansas City Monarchs, Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman).  Jackie's first order of business upon hearing this news, ask his fiance Rachel (the stunning Nicole Beharie) to marry him, now it's off to spring training in Florida to hang out with the Dodgers farm team, the Montreal Royals,  to experience some quality racism.

From there the film follows Robinson's  almost other-worldly play as a minor leaguer, chronicled by writer Wendell Smith (Andre Holland) who Rickey assigned to Robinson to more-or-less babysit, until he's eventually called to the majors where the real fun starts.

So a few of the Dodgers take up a petition as they don't want to play with him, there are numerous death threats, on the field once the internal disruptions were suppressed, bean balls, high spikes, bad calls from umpires and name calling will be the order of the day.  But with a steely resolve that few people possess and fewer could ever understand, the backing of an unwavering owner and the love of a good woman, history tells us that Jackie Robinson will persevere.  Now if only in the year 2013 we could convince black kids to start playing baseball again.

Now don't get me wrong.  '42' is a very good movie, maybe even a great movie on many levels.  The film possesses everything I imagine one would want from a historical biography in that we have a majestic, larger than life central figure, played with class and aplomb by Chadwick Boseman, a driven axis of change in Branch Rickey expertly played by Harrison Ford with Han Solo completely settled in to playing old men now, and this majestic character is given a solid support system in the characters wonderfully played by both Nicole Beharie and Andre Holland.  The look of the film was great, perfectly capturing the era, the on-field play, what little there was in this baseball movie, felt authentic and you don't need me to tell you that this in important story that deserves a retelling.  It's almost perfect.

And I guess therein lies my problem with this otherwise very fine film, in that everything felt so perfect and neat, which I imagine is necessary for a movie like this to make it palatable and digestible for a mass audience, when the reality was a lot tougher and uglier.  Chadwick Boseman did his very best to humanize Jackie Robinson, but the character he was given was more of a challenged saint than a distressed, three dimensional human being.  And I do believe that even the Huxtables would be a little bit envious of the marriage of Jackie and Rachel Robinson as it was portrayed here.  As I mentioned earlier, everything plays out at the right note at just the right time which did make the movie somewhat sterile.  Even the racism, as there is a scene where Ben Chapman, the manager of the Phillies, was completely out of line in his verbal abuse of Robinson but this scene was played by actor Alan Tudyk and Tudyk is an actor with certain sense of charm and humor, which he brought this scene, which defused the impact of the scene just a little bit.  Racist Alan Tudyk is almost a racist you can hang out with.  To the film's defense, I read an interview where this was the desired effect the filmmaker's where going for, to humanize racism, which is why all of this is nothing more than one man's opinion.

This is no insult but I think '42' plays like a kid's movie.  It takes difficult things and makes them simple, and it handles this in a way that's entertaining as well as being educational.  That's not easy.  Personally, I probably would've have preferred a tougher movie, but the movie that we got is darn near irresistible, that I can't deny.
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