It is 1945. Segregation is the law everywhere. Including baseball. Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) is the owner of the Brooklyn National League Baseball Club, which includes the Brooklyn Dodgers and their minor league counterpart, the Montreal Royals. Rickey is looking to shake up the game. He is looking for an African-American player who can make it in the white league. The player not only has to be able to play the game, but to withstand the pressure and hate sent his way from the fans, the media, and the other players. Rickey’s entire organization is against the idea, but he proceeds anyway.
Rickey decides on Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman). Jackie is a brash young man who doesn’t appreciate the Jim Crowe laws. He stands up for himself at every opportunity. His girlfriend, Rachel (Nicole Beharie) feels and behaves the same way. Rickey wants Jackie to suppress these urges. Not because he wants Jackie to accept the status quo, rather Rickey feels that if Jackie reacts as he wants to, people will dismiss him as another “angry negro.”
Jackie is signed to the Montreal Royals and told that if he performs well, he will be moved to the major league Dodgers. Jackie’s team, even the coaches, aren’t receptive to having a black man on the team. The coach is told if he doesn’t treat Jackie fairly, he won’t be coaching the Royals. He complies. Most of Jackie’s teammates tolerate him on the team and Jackie is moved to the Dodgers.
The Dodgers, being the big shots they are, aren’t as accepting. Most even sign a petition that if he plays on the team, they will quit. Rickey instructs team manager Leo Durocher (Christopher Meloni) that he needs to nip the situation in the bud. Most of the team comes around. The fans and the other teams, however, do not want a negro in a white man’s world.
As history shows, Jackie overcomes everything thrown at him (probably literally) to become an amazing player and trailblazer.
42, obviously, is based on the true story of Jackie Robinson. It is difficult to imagine a time where this behavior was not only acceptable, but the law. It took a lot of guts for Rickey to do what he did. And for Jackie to go along with it.
The cast works well together. Sure, there are definitely some moments where the actors go over the top and seem almost a caricature. (I also don’t know how Harrison Ford maintained that voice throughout filming without losing his voice. My throat hurt just watching it.) I think what writer/director Brian Helgeland was trying to do is set the scene for how America was in the 1940s. It is hard to fit that much hate and vitriol into 2 hours.
The scene where the young boy at one of the games starts shouting the N-word at Jackie because everyone else was doing it really shows where we were (and still are) as a nation. How Alan Tudyk and some of the other actors play their roles, with some of the lines they have to deliver, must have been difficult. It really is surprising that we did (and still do) treat others. Overall, the film is well done. The tone definitely gives you the feel of what Jackie went through coming up through the ranks.
Where this film may fall short in terms of the overacting and whatever creative liberties may have been taken with the film, it is carried by the story itself. It is a remarkable tale of 2 men with the courage to change a broken system.
There is some swearing, and a lot of the N-word (though, nowhere near Django Unchained), but I think it would be a good film for older kids to see, just so they know where we have come from. It is an inspiring story.