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Some strong casting helps make “42” a knockout

Beharie (left) played Rachel Robinson and Boseman (right) played  Jackie Robinson. (MTC Campus)
Beharie (left) played Rachel Robinson and Boseman (right) played Jackie Robinson. (MTC Campus)

Jackie Robinson’s impact is one we still experience today, whether from the questions about race and action his work raised; the eternal retirement of his number 42, or The Jackie Robinson Foundation and scholarship, which one Stony Brook student, senior Linnetta De La Cruz, receives.

Still, Robinson is best known for being the first African American to play major league baseball. Robinson’s role as a major league baseball player was a major contribution and inspiration to the civil rights movement. It broke the racial segregation that plagued professional baseball, and Robinson’s talent challenged the issue of segregation.

The movie “42” is another telling of Jackie Robinson’s rise to fame with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Unlike “Soul of the Game,” and “Blue in the Face” (two other films based on Robinson), “42” focuses less on Robinson as an icon and family man, and instead puts the focus on what really matters—baseball.

The story follows the rise of Robinson from the Negro league to the Brooklyn Dodgers as he must learn to battle racism both on the field and off. To accomplish this, director/writer Brian Helgeland focused heavily on the relationships between Robinson and the rest of the Dodgers. The most important relationship—and highlight of the film—is that of Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) and Dodgers owner Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford).

This relationship forms the basis of the story, as Rickey quickly becomes a father figure to Robinson. He is aware of the racial tension and hate that Robinson was sure to receive and tries to train Robinson to “have the guts not to fight back.” Rickey also acts as a bridge between the other players and Robinson, constantly justifying Robinson’s place on the team.

Ford is great as Rickey, bringing in a level of enthusiasm to this role that we have not seen from him in a while. His character shouts, smokes cigars and pushes players with delightful glee, but expresses great sorrow when needed. He absolutely owns every scene he is in, and it would be great to see him in more roles like this.

Even stronger than Ford, though, is Boseman as Robinson. This is Boseman’s first real outing on the big screen and the actor absolutely nails it. He brings a high level of charm to a film that explores some very mature themes. There is one very cheesy scene in which Robinson throws a ball at an awe-struck kid, but Boseman’s charisma makes the viewers believe they are watching the story of a man, not a legend.

The supporting cast is mostly strong. Lucas Black (Pee Wee Reese), Nicole Beharie (Rachel Robinson) and Andre Holland (Wendell Smith) all perform their parts well enough, but they do not play a large role. Other characters do not fare as well, such as Alan Tudyk (Ben Chapman), who simply does not work as an antagonist.

Still, with all this in mind, the movie has some flaws. Because it is based on a true story, the movie lacks any tension. And because the film is a sports movie, it follows a very simple principle—there is a scene in which Robinson struggles through practice, another in which only Robinson can win the big game and a lot of inspirational speeches. These are, however, very small flaws that don’t detract much from the overall film.

Sports movies have experienced a renaissance within the past few years, with films like “Miracle,” “Ali” and “The Blind Side” all exploring the depth of the relationship between sport and player. “42” easily deserves a place next to those films.

It is a smart film that takes a unique angle for an already-told story. The movie rides on the strength of the two leads, and they completely own it. “42” is a great movie that takes everything it wanted to do and knocks it out of the park.

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