Viau’s View/Scott Viau
The story of Jackie Robinson was not one I was familiar with. To be honest, if you were to ask me what I knew about him I would have given you a blank stare and a shrug of the shoulders. But the film “42” has filled in the severe gaps in my knowledge with a thoughtful and powerful story.
The year is 1945 and segregation is at an all-time high. Black people are required to ride in the back of the bus, use different bathrooms and drink from different fountains. The thought of having a black player on a white baseball team is a radical idea, but for Brooklyn Dodgers team executive Branch Rickey, it’s something that will put butts in the seats and money in pockets. He then recruits Robinson, who must face an endless amount of racism and bigotry not only from opposing teams but his own teammates, as well. But in order for him to successful, he must learn to control his impulsive temper in order to be taken seriously as a ball player.
The performances here are what help elevate the movie past typical bio-pic fluff and sentimentality. Newcomer Chadwick Boseman gives an amazing performance as Robinson.
You can feel his frustration, to put it lightly, at having to be a source of ridicule and the suspense from whether or not he’ll be able to keep his cool is palpable.
Harrison Ford also gives a commanding performance as Branch Rickey, although his gruff voice more often that not comes across as mere caricature rather than inhabiting a once living person. I know nothing about the man, so I can’t accurately assess whether or not his performance is spot on.
One of the most rousing aspects of “42” is watching his teammates and the public in general overcome their incredible bigotry and racism. It’s unfortunately something that is still dealt with today, but thankfully not to the extreme as it was then.
My only problem with the film, and this may actually be more of a criticism of the thinking of people back then, but everyone’s rationale for why it’s okay for a black man to be on the baseball team seems to be about money or winning. They don’t care if he’s black as long as he helps them win. I suppose it’s a better attitude to have than just plain not wanting him on the team because of the color of his skin, but I wish it had more to do with being the right thing rather than helping someone get rich or win.
Ultimately, “42” is a rousing film that will make you want to stand up and cheer and marvel at a time when people were so openly persecuted. It’s a good history lesson about the horrors of our past and why it should never be repeated.