I don't know that I've ever said that about a movie before. I mean, I like a pretty crazy mix of movies, and I know everyone has their own tastes, so I don't usually tell people to go see a movie just cuz I like it. But I really, truly think most people should see this movie. (Due to strong language, racial slurs, and a little mild innuendo, it's PG-13.)
Okay, in case you didn't know, 42 is the story of how Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) became the first African-American player in Major League Baseball. It begins with Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), the Brooklyn Dodgers' General Manager, announcing he wants to add a black baseball player to the team, and selecting Jackie Robinson as the one he think can handle the job. It's the mid-1940s. World War Two is over, but segregation and Jim Crow laws are not over. Rickey needs a man who can stand up under all the torment and abuse that will be coming at him, and he believes Robinson has the courage needed. Robinson isn't so sure, but he can't resist the challenge, so he signs on. Then promptly calls his girlfriend back in California and proposes to her.
The rest of the movie is about how he proves himself as a ballplayer and human being, gradually winning over white fans and teammates alike. I clapped, I bounced with joy, I cried, I clapped some more. I can't wait to buy this and see it again. It's the best baseball movie I've seen since The Natural (1984).
But this is so much more than a baseball movie. It's a movie about Americans, some choosing to do what is right, some choosing to do what is accepted. And some changing their minds and learning to follow their hearts and consciences. It's a movie about how we became a better nation. (Not that we don't still have room for improvement, of course.)
Speaking of The Natural, I read on imdb.com that Robert Redford was the first choice to play Branch Rickey in this. I'm so glad that didn't work out, and not just because Harrison Ford is my second-favorite actor ever. I think Robert Redford would have been too sweet, too kindly. Not that Harrison Ford wasn't kind, because he was. But he had this underlying steel that made me sure he would never back down no matter how much heat got turned on. Not to mention, this movie has some of the finest acting I have ever seen Harrison Ford do. He wasn't a grouchy old guy. He wasn't an angry, vengeful action hero. He was a proud, determined baseball lover.
Ford's Branch Rickey has a growly facade, with a phlegmy voice and stooped shoulders, a shuffling walk that makes you think he's harmless, just a nice old guy who means well. But over the course of the movie, you come to see that this isn't just a schtick on Ford's part -- it's Branch Rickey the character bamboozling the world. In a very pivotal scene where Rickey finally explains his decision to Robinson, his shoulders gradually straighten. His voice clears and rings deep and true. And after he's explained himself, the mask slips back on, and he's back to being the forward-thinking old coot. It's masterful. I want him to get an Oscar for this, I really do.
Okay, enough rhapsodizing about Harrison Ford -- I need to talk a bit about Chadwick Boseman's performance. First, I think he's a lovely match for Robinson, physically. They both have boyish faces, a bit of a mischievous twinkle in their eyes, a contagious smile. He's got a lovely voice, and a very natural, engaging, thoughtful style. He's got an athletic build and that controlled grace that comes from all your muscles working together (something I lack and envy).
Nicole Beharie played Rachel Robinson. A relative newcomer, like Boseman, she exuded confidence and love. It was obvious from her first scene why the dynamic Jackie fell for her. I hope to see her in more things!
And finally, I'm going to mention Alan Tudyk. He plays the closest thing to a Bad Guy that this film has -- Ben Chapman, the vitriolic, bigoted, loud-mothed manager of a rival team who insults and heckles Robinson and his teammates, leading to a moment where Jackie thinks he might just have to quit this whole idea. I love Alan Tudyk, I really do -- he's phenomenal and memorable in everything, even if he's just voicing a robot like in I, Robot (2004). Here, he's despicable and disgusting... and indispensable.
Okay, time to talk costumes! They were unobtrusive, and by that I mean, I didn't really think of them as costumes. I thought of them as clothes, real clothes worn by real people, and I don't think there can be any higher praise than that for the wardrobe department on a biopic. The men wore suits and ties (or bowties, in Branch Rickey's case), and there were lots of suspenders, which I loved. The women wore dresses or skirt ensembles. The baseball players wore baseball uniforms.
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