It’s 1946 and baseball has never seen a black man step onto the pitch to play with other white men in modern times. Branch Rickey, the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers has an idea to shake things up. He would employ a black man, one who would not be destroyed by the inevitable racism, one who would have the strength to rise above his naysayers on the pitch. That man was Jackie Robinson. 42 is an incredible true story about overcoming racism and opposition from all angles, even from people on the same team. It’s about baseball and there’s also a love story underlying it all between Jackie and his fiercely loyal wife, Rachel. I like a film that won’t easily be categorised.
The little-known Chadwick Boseman fills the shoes of Jackie while Harrison Ford is Rickey. I was pretty shocked to see Harrison playing such a doddery and stubborn old man, I know he’s 71 but it was still a surprise. He really hams it up, playing Rickey like he was a Broadway producer but it works and his relationship with Jackie is believable, despite him seeming to be the only white man who doesn’t despise Robinson. There are some shocking moments as expected, where the ‘n’ word is bandied about and no-one says a thing. Even when people stick up for Jackie, you don’t know if they’re doing it for the right reasons or just to save their team.
It’s very easy to slip into writing caricatures in a film about racism. 42 only does it occasionally, most notably with Alan Tudyk’s character, coach Ben Chapman, who abuses Robinson from the dugout, noisily and virtually unopposed. His punishment? Having to have his picture taken with Robinson. It’s still a shock to see the out and out, unabashed racism and I think it’s portrayed well in 42. It’s incredibly frustrating for the audience to watch Robinson ignoring the comments that come his way but you keep returning to a quote at the beginning of the film. “You want a player who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?” “No. I want a player who’s got the guts not to fight back.” I love the fact that they make baseball accessible, unlike Brad Pitt’s acclaimed Moneyball and that they show how cheeky Robinson was on the pitch, trying to throw other players off their game. You feel almost sorry for the fact that he’s held up as a hero when all he was trying to do was play ball but you’re so glad he accepted the challenge. As the eternally wise @DJTrevorNelson said today, Jackie Robinson paved the way for other black sportsman who might not be playing today.
It’s an important film but it’s also entertaining. I didn’t feel lectured, I didn’t feel like it was a ‘dramatic race’ film, it was just an excellent true story, which was about the relationship between a black man and his love of baseball. Did I make it weird? I feel like I made it weird.