Sunday, April 14, 2013


Disclaimer: I'm a baseball fan, history nut, and a third-generation Dodger fan, and Jackie Robinson is one of my personal heroes, so if you're looking for a clear-eyed, dispassionate and disinterested movie review, you're in the worst possible place.

I'm here to tell you that 42 is the best movie I've seen in a long, long time.  42 more than lives up to the hype. It met and surpassed my expectations, which were pretty high; I don't remember the last film I anticipated so much. I'm sure critics and historians will find things to quibble about, but I'm neither of those, so I have the luxury of enjoying movies while I watch them. Yes, things can get a bit syrupy, and some artistic license was taken as should be expected, but the major events of the movie all happened. There's not an "Aw, come on, are you kidding me?!" moment in the whole film. Yes, the gas station scene is historical (though Dodger scout Clyde Sukeforth didn't really show up there), and yes, Phillies manager Ben Chapman really did say all those things.  Pee-wee really did put his arm around Jackie.

42 is a visual and auditory feast. From costumes to automobiles to streetscapes to music to speech patterns, it is rich and evocative, with eye-popping recreations of National League ballparks like Ebbets Field, Forbes Field, Crosley Field, and Shibe Park, all of which succumbed to the wrecking ball decades ago. (The scene with Branch Rickey alone in Ebbets Field is magical, and die-hard baseball history fans will recognize the Forbes Field left field wall in Pittsburgh as the site of Bill Mazeroski's 1960 World Series-winning home run). Recreating a time when the most colorful commercial endorsements in baseball were on the outfield walls is sure to invoke nostalgia. 42 is pitch-perfect, period-perfect and picture-perfect.

I'm usually disappointed with at least some of the casting in most historical films, but in that regard I found 42 brilliant without exception. Brett Cullen, Christopher Meloni, Max Gail and John C. McGinley play Montreal manager Clay Hopper, Brooklyn managers Leo Durocher and Burt Shotton and broadcaster Red Barber exactly how I've always imagined them. Andre Holland and Nicole Beharie portray reporter Wendell Smith and Robinson's wife Rachel Isum Robinson with feeling and nuance.

Harrison Ford is truly Oscar-worthy as the colorful, visionary Branch Rickey, in all his Methodist, bow-tied, bushy-eyebrowed glory. There were people who thought Rickey was nothing more than a grandiloquent, pious, mercenary hypocrite (Walter O' Malley called him a "psalm-singing fake"), but I think them probably unfair, and Ford makes him neither a saint nor a scoundrel, but rather the multidimensional man that he was.

Not only is Chadwick Boseman a near-perfect physical match for Jackie Robinson, but it's hard to imagine anyone doing a better job with what must have been the daunting role of a lifetime (imagine more pressure in playing anyone outside of the Bible). Boseman as Robinson is strong, stubborn, determined, courageous, resilient, dignified, sensitive, intelligent, outspoken, smoldering and hates to lose.  I've said before that with all of the amazing things about Jackie Robinson to commend him, what stands out most to me is simply his manhood, and I was gratified to see how well Boseman conveys it.

42 is stunning, authentic, evocative, triumphant and important. What it promises, it delivers. It doesn't preach, it documents; it trusts its audience to draw conclusions.  There were times in the movie I shook my head, hung my head, threw it back to laugh and put hand to forehead. There were times it was hard not to cry. There were times it was hard to watch and listen and that's why I think every American aged twelve or thirteen and up ought to see it. I'm glad my preteen daughter was with me.  For her, Jackie Robinson will ever be more than a black-and-white photo or someone her old man talks about, and his importance will never be a mere abstraction.



  1. Just found you on the A to Z list. I don't know if you usually write reviews but this is a great one! I plan to see 42 and I imagine getting goosebumps when he first hits the fielld in the majors (or something like that).

    Check out my A to Z! Jen Hemming and Hawing Again

  2. Thank you! I've written two book reviews but this is the first movie review I've done. You won't be disappointed in 42. You'll get goosebumps, chills, tears...
    Thanks for stopping by and I look forward to checking out your blog!


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