It’s been out for a while, but the box office is slowing the face of juggernaut Man of Steel, so this was a good opportunity to go catch up on 42. Starring Harrison Ford, Chadwick Boseman and Nicole Beharie, to name a few, this is the biopic of baseball legend Jackie Robinson. He’s the first African American in baseball, in case you didn’t know. Being a baseball fan myself, I wanted to see this done well and it was a perfectly fine movie. I left feeling pretty warm and fuzzy about fighting racism, doing the right thing and turning baseball into a mirror for greater society.
I can also say that I left feeling there was something missing. It wasn’t the acting, though at times you feel Harrison Ford is getting old and he has a bag of marbles in his mouth. The plot illustrated the frustrations, challenges and triumph of the players just fine. I laughed a few times, I felt sympathy but missing was a thing I couldn’t name. Maybe it’s because we know how the story turns out. We know Jackie Robinson opened the door for a slew of black baseball players. We know overt segregation ended. Maybe it’s because we’re trained as a movie audience to have a glaring triumphant moment. While the movie tried to provide this in the ending sequence, like real life, Robinson’s story didn’t have an end. There was no one “ah-ha” moment where we got to say that segregation ended, all is right with our morality. There were, instead, a series of lessons and illustrations, finely played by the actors, to show that Robinson and those around him were taking brave steps every day to well and truly overcome racism.
This does not make for a movie that we’re used to. There’s no huge payoff for the audience. Instead we are forced to see that it is the small things we do every day that turn us into who we are – whether that is a bigot, or a champion for equal rights. Even owner Branch Rickey’s momentous decision to bring a black man into the prominent Major Leagues is broken down into the many small fights he had to win against the other players on the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson’s first coach, the owner of the Philly Pirates, etc. etc.
The movie comes approved by Robinson’s widow, so it was authentic to the life and times of Robinson. It’s an important story to tell, both about baseball and the state of our nation. It’s sad that it will be relegated to the back of the Blockbuster and seen only as a feel good movie. There is magic in the movie but it is unlikely it will compete with its flashier cousins this summer. A good movie but not for everyone.
6 baseball heroes out of 10