Every year on April 15, every single player in Major League Baseball dons the number 42 to pay homage to Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s race barrier in 1947. The new film “42” memorializes Robinson by translating his story to the big screen.


Warner Bros.
Rave and Quality 16

So … why hadn’t this movie been made before? (Aside from the 1950 film “The Jackie Robinson Story,” which starred Jackie Robinson as himself.) As frequently as Hollywood capitalizes on inspirational true stories (“Argo,” “A Beautiful Mind” — even crappy ones like “Dolphin Tale”), it’s surprising that over 60 years have passed, and we’re just now getting a big-budget film about true American hero, Jackie Robinson.

“42” chronicles Jackie Robinson’s journey from the second-rate fields of the Negro Leagues through the minor-league system and all the way to the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first black man to play in the MLB. All the while, Robinson (Chadwick Boseman, TV’s “All My Children”) deals with the hardship and turmoil of breaking racial barriers in a country filled with people not ready to let a black man share their bathrooms, let alone play the game they love.

In his first starring role, Boseman harnesses raw emotion to portray Robinson believably: After relentless heckling from the manager of an opposing team, Robinson storms into the tunnel beneath the dugout and shatters his bat against the wall. He screams out in frustration. He contemplates quitting the entire endeavor before he collects himself and trots out to take the field for the next inning.

Harrison Ford (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”) shines as Dodgers owner Branch Rickey. He steps into the complex mindset of a man trying to bring change to the game he loves, yet unable to do it himself. John C. McGinley (TV’s “Scrubs”) adds a humorous theme to the film as deadpan Dodgers’ play-by-play announcer Red Barber.

Detailed and faithful digital recreation of some of baseball’s most famous ballparks adds to the authenticity of the story. From Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field to Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field and the historic Polo Grounds, “42” places Jackie and the rest of the 1947 Dodgers seamlessly into the ballparks of yesteryear.

Some scenes feel forced and unnecessary. One such scene shows Jackie staring out of his hotel window when his wife, Rae (Nicole Beharie, “The Express”), comes up behind him and tells him she loves him. He replies likewise; the scene is over. While it’s clear that this scene is trying to convey how much a source of strength Rae is for Jackie, it doesn’t connect with the scenes around it and thus falls flat. Still, the beautiful look of the film and magnificence of the story make the film’s shortcomings easy to overlook.

“42” isn’t a perfect movie. Some will be disturbed by acts of racism, while others will believe there should be more in order to make the film more realistic. Some will love the old-school roots of the soundtrack, while others will lament the lack of a single Jay-Z song (Really? No “Brooklyn Go Hard”? Not even in the credits?). But “42” tells an inspirational story that should never be forgotten. And given that MLB currently has its lowest percentage of black players since the Eisenhower administration, it’s a story that’s just as relevant as ever.

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