By CAMERON NIXON
What makes an athlete a star? A hero even? When he or she wins a lot of games or has the best stats? When he or she donates some money to charity? The newest film, “42,” by director Brian Helgeland makes a case for Jackie Robinson as baseball’s greatest hero. Not for his skill or ability to win, though he had that too, but for his guts and what his playing represented.
The film’s message in some ways overshadows the movie itself on a technical level. Some of the acting is a bit over dramatic, but it’s never stilted. The film’s two leading stars are Chadwick Bosemen as Jackie Robinson and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Bosemen is as strong as Robinson: a confident, quiet and moral man. Harrison also excels as Rickey, whose dream of a purer baseball becomes a reality throughout the course of the film. The movie focuses a lot on one-on-one scenes and sometimes struggles. The second half of the film is a little stronger as it emphasizes Jackie as a Dodger and his slow acceptance by the other players as a member of the team (though Jackie’s teammates are a little unrealized).
The most powerful scene in the film occurs in a game against the Philadelphia Phillies, when Robinson has been pushed to his limits by racist taunts. It’s the scene in which he finally breaks down and is uplifted by those around him. It’s one of the few scenes in the film that is historically inaccurate but it does its job in demonstrating Robinson’s resilience along with his humanity.
“42” isn’t a perfect film; it has its boring moments and it’s a bit by the book at times. Where it succeeds is in its emphasis on the cultural change that Jackie Robinson and the Dodgers organization brought about in baseball and the way in which he was able to inspire a generation, no matter the color of their skin.