Hollywood has redeemed itself. After having to endure — with hopefully no permanent damage — "Evil Dead” last week, my faith in Tinsel Town was restored with the new film “42.”
Chadwick Boseman suits up as baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson, and he simply knocks it out of the park. Harrison Ford is brilliant as Branch Rickey, the man who set the stage for African-Americans to play in the majors when Robinson took to the field as a Brooklyn Dodger on April 15, 1947.
Writer/director Brian Helgeland delivers the perfect combination of time and place, love of the game, just the right amount of backstory and a good dose of human frailty mixed with some old-time hero worship. The look of this movie is wonderful, and the feel — well … it’s better.
The story picks up as Rickey is floating the idea of bringing a carefully selected player out of the Negro League to break the tacit agreement that has kept America’s pastime white. To say the idea was met with less than enthusiasm by key individuals in the Dodger organization is an understatement. But Branch Rickey is determined and hand picks a promising prospect with great stats and a track record of defying segregation. The fact that Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was dishonorably discharged from military service because he refused to move to the rear of a bus intrigues the part-owner and general manager of the Dodgers.
From the moment he tries out for their Montreal farm team to the Dodgers winning the National League pennant with Robinson on first base, this snapshot shows America with all our strengths and our shortcomings — but most important, our ability to change for the good.
There is a chilling scene in “42” where a father and son are in the stands anticipating the game and cheering their favorite players. When No. 42 takes the field, the father shouts insults and racial epithets. Watching the look of admiration and elation on the boy’s face go to that of confusion, then to hatred while parroting his father almost made me ill. But at that point, the boy’s hero, Pee Wee Reece, places his arm around Robinson’s shoulder, the boy takes note and the moment is redeemed.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better supporting cast in a film, from Robinson’s wife Rachel, played by Nicole Beharie, to Christopher Meloni as legendary manager Leo Durocher, the depth of performances, at every level, is remarkable. John McGinley, as play-by-play announcer Red Barber, is priceless.
This is the best movie so far this year. I’m giving “42” four stars.