Sometimes the story is so powerful that it's all you need. That's most definitely the case with 42, the film that came out earlier this year and was a sleeper hit at the box office. Written and directed by Brian Helgeland, it's a traditional, old-fashioned Hollywood biopic that tells the story of the Brooklyn Dodgers 1947 season, the year that saw Jackie Robinson become the first African-American to don a Major League uniform.
Everyone knows the the tale by now (or they should), but watching it play out in this new film is no less moving and satisfying than in 1950's The Jackie Robinson Story, where the legend played himself on screen. In this movie, newcomer Chadwick Boseman plays Robinson, and turns in a good performance as the stoic, sturdy, tough as nails ball player who endured the taunts, threats, hatred and insults tossed his way as he stepped up to make history at the plate. We know it was his job to not react, to ignore all confrontation and fight back by playing the game, but that doesn't make it any less hard to watch him go through the motions, even now. Harrison Ford is a bit hammy but memorable as Dodgers owner Branch Rickey, who was determined to put a black player on the team, and he appears to be actively not phoning it in here, which is always welcome to see. We follow Jackie through his first season on the franchise farm team in Montreal, and then as he steps onto the Dodgers field wearing the retired "42" it's hard not to feel yourself swelling up.
To Helgeland's credit, he doesn't play it off as too sentimental and it never comes across as overly dwelling on the heroic moments. In fact, it's a very straightforward rendition, with no directorial flourishes or deep probing into who Jackie Robinson was as a man- so you might think what about this version makes it worth telling, if we're not getting anything new out of it? I would argue that the value is in making sure that the story is not forgotten, given the fact that so much time has passed. I mean, how many people now have ever even seen the 1950 movie? I'd wager not many, and given the reaction to this film starring an unknown when it was released just a few months ago, there is still a desire out there to see the triumph of one of the great American heroes, whose story is still so inspirational that it deserves to be preserved and celebrated all over again. Sure, it could have gone in for the darker recesses of the man himself, given us something new to discover, but that's for another film that could still be made. This one did exactly what it set out to do- bring the nearly 70 year old legend of Jackie Robinson back to the big screen for a new generation, and that's a worthy enough goal by me.
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