BANG Movie Review: 42

Watching 42, it dawned on me that, for a person who can’t hit a baseball to save my life, I have seen – and enjoyed – a goodly number of baseball movies. (The Natural, Bull Durham, Stealing Home, Field of Dreams, A League of Their Own, and Moneyball – only a drop in the bucket of baseball movies.) I guess it’s a game with natural theatrical value.

42-movie poster chadwick boseman

42 is the story of Jackie Robinson’s rise to fame in 1947 as the first black player in Major League Baseball – and it really is an amazing story. I must admit I knew nothing about it – his name was familiar to me, and I probably could have told you he was a baseball player, but I had no idea of his pivotal role in the civil rights movement, “just” playing ball.

jackie robinson
Jackie Robinson in 1954

In case you don’t know, Jack Roosevelt Robinson was an athlete who was raised by a single mom in Pasadena, California. He attended UCLA and served in the military, and was known as “combative” when it came to being treated with racism. (He was even court-martialed once for this, but was acquitted.)

He was hand-picked by Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, to be the man to break the colour barrier in Major League Baseball. And by gum, Jackie broke that barrier, using solid talent and incredible restraint.

  • This movie is not subtle. It is unabashedly earnest, like a kid telling a story: the characters are whole, clean, deceptively simple. They speak plainly and their lessons are clear. We don’t see the nuances of every mood and quirk.
  • I personally think this is a positive thing – not every movie has to be gritty and fast-paced just because we’re in an era of gritty, fast-paced movies. Even if the real-life story was more ambiguous (and I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that it was), I enjoyed THIS version of the story. Isn’t that why we go to the movies anyway?
  • Besides, the subject matter has quite enough layers and puzzles in and of itself. It endows each character with the fullness of history, and that’s complex enough.
  • Look at that, I’m waxing cheesy, and I don’t care. That’s the kind of film this is.
  • The music goes right along with that unequivocal sincerity I mentioned: it’s full-on epic, swelling emotionally at all the right moments, designed to jerk those tears. Just as you’d want it to be when you combine sports with moral metamorphosis.
  • Can you bring your kids to it? I would say yes, it’s a family movie. There’s almost no violence included, and it puts tough messages in very watchable terms. To my recollection, there is but one (well-deserved) S-bomb. The N-word is used in abundance, as it would have been at the time.
  • Chadwick Boseman is endearing and convincing as Jackie. And looks a lot like the real one.
  • Harrison Ford does as great job as Branch Rickey, a rather less curmudgeonly character than usual for him. A daring and innovative guy.
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Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey
  • By the way, how does a guy born in 1881 get a name like “Branch”? It seems so hippie, like Meadow or Rain. Well, Wikipedia says his name was actually Wesley Branch Rickey, so I’m guessing it’s a family surname somewhere. There’s no evidence that his parents smoked weed.
  • I really enjoyed John C. McGinley in the role of commentator Red Barber. You could tell he relished all his folksy expressions. (In stark contrast to his role as Dr. Cox in Scrubs, who is only remotely folksy in sarcasm, right before he says something really mean.)
  • I also enjoyed Christopher Meloni as the Dodgers’ manager Leo Durocher. Now there’s a character who’s weirdly honourable and dishonourable at the same time.
Chris-Meloni leo durocher
Christopher Meloni as Leo Durocher
  • I did not so much enjoy my dear Alan Tudyk (a.k.a. Wash in Firefly and Serenity) in the role of racist asswipe Ben Chapman, the Phillies’ manager. But he did a good job, you know, as an actor. That’s why I disliked him so much.
  • One of my favourite elements in the story was the idea that Rickey asked for Robinson because he needed a Negro player “with guts enough not to fight back.” As a Quaker, I dig this concept of fighting assholery with dignity – MUCH harder than responding in kind.
  • Like my friend lola, I am way more affected by watching movies now that they tug at my mama-strings. There is a lovely scene where Jackie stares through the nursery window to tell his newborn son that he will be there for him, unlike his own father was… and all I could think about was generations of babies and their mamas who didn’t cuddle together RIGHT AWAY after birth, dissuaded from breastfeeding or taking any ownership of each other… those babies just lying in their separate little bassinets, waiting for someone to come pick them up, because that’s how it was done… I could cry just thinking about it. Not really on-topic, though.
  • There are so many well-executed inspirational moments in this film. I lost count of the number of times I found myself just grinning at the screen.
lucas black pee wee reese chadwick boseman jackie robinson 42 movie
Lucas Black as Pee Wee Reese and Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson.
  • Even having absorbed lots of pop culture revolving around the civil rights movement, I found it eye-opening to realize how truly brave Jackie Robinson had to be, simply to do his job as a ball-player. Had he been possessed of less self-control, or had one of his aggressors been just crazy enough to cross that oh-so-fragile, invisible line… this could have been a tragic story.
  • Further to that, it’s eye-opening to realize how much his teammates took on, just playing with him. Racism in America was OFF THE HOOK back then. (I wish I could say it’s disappeared now.)
  • Makes you wonder what humankind as a species could have accomplished if we hadn’t spent so much time, energy, and brain power trying to keep people segregated. So pointless.
  • Further to that, it makes you wonder what humankind as a species could be accomplishing right now if we didn’t spend so much time, energy, and brain power protesting gay marriage. And so on and so forth.

So, to sum up: TOTALLY FRIGGIN’ HEARTWARMING. You should go see it.

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