42–The Jackie Robinson Story

By Piper Bayard

42, starring Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, and Nicole Beharie, tells a story of African-American Jackie Robinson’s breakthrough into the world of major league baseball. It covers Robinson’s life from the time he was first hired to play for the Dodgers’ affiliate, the Montreal Royals, through his rookie year with the Dodgers.

42 movie poster

Jackie Robinson used his life to write a story of pioneering talent and determination, from being UCLA’s first 4-letter athlete and a 2nd lieutenant and platoon leader in the U.S. Army during WWII, to becoming the first ever major league baseball Rookie of the Year. He was an extraordinary man and an outstanding baseball player. Too bad this movie isn’t about him.

Instead, 42 is about the deity commonly referred to as “Jackie Robinson.” The movie isn’t even shy about Robinson’s deity status, making several overt correlations between him and Jesus Christ, with his only “flaw” being an occasional reasonable display of temper. I can’t help but think that Jackie Robinson the Man might have cringed at the explicit comparisons with the Son of God.

That said, the acting in this movie is excellent. Most of the characters are written as 21st century politically correct racial stereotypes. However, the actors do a great job in spite of their, if you will forgive me, black and white roles, and their performances were excellent to a person.

Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in 42

Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in 42

Chadwick Boseman, a graduate of Howard University and a former student of the British American Drama Academy in Oxford, England, is exceptional as Jackie Robinson. He took Hollywood’s character profile of a deity and almost convinced me he was playing an actual historical figure rather than a mythical hero. He is the antithesis of Kristen Stewart with his range of facial expressions, and he has a lovely smile that I look forward to seeing in another movie. Soon, if possible.

Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey in 42

Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey in 42

Harrison Ford, always a welcome favorite, is gifted by the writers in having a well-rounded character to play in the form of Branch Rickey. He did a great job with it.

Nicole Beharie also deserves recognition for her portrayal of Rachel, Jackie Robinson’s wife. It’s not mentioned in the movie, but Rachel Robinson went on to become an Assistant Professor at Yale School of Nursing and the Director of Nursing at the Connecticut Mental Health Center. Beharie is more than believable playing that accomplished, graceful young woman in the movie who would, herself, make contributions to history in her own right.

Nicole Beharie as Rachel Robinson in 42

Nicole Beharie as Rachel Robinson in 42

I do not want to diminish Jackie Robinson the Man’s accomplishments. I have the greatest respect for him and for the uphill battle he faced. There is no question that Robinson suffered considerable racism both on and off the diamond. And, to the best of my knowledge, the movie is accurate in its portrayal of Phillies manager Ben Chapman, the Phillies, and the Cardinals, who were notable in their racial abuse.

However, unlike the movie portrayal, Robinson was not the only black player in the Montreal Royals. In fact, the International League had a number of minorities in their ranks at the time he joined. Also, the Brooklyn Dodgers largely welcomed him to their team with only a handful of his teammates objecting. Throughout the baseball world, there were mixed reactions to opening major league baseball teams to racial minorities, and for every white person who was against it, there was another white person who would not have cared if Robinson was a Martian as long as he could hit. Young people watching this movie would never know that.

Jackie Robinson LOOK, v. 19, no. 4, 1955 Feb. 22, p. 78 Photo by Bob Sandberg, LOOK Photographer

Jackie Robinson
LOOK, v. 19, no. 4, 1955 Feb. 22, p. 78
Photo by Bob Sandberg, LOOK Photographer

I give this movie a .38 Special rating*. That means I was glad I saw it at the matinée, and I’m actually glad I saw it. The actors’ performances were worth the trip in spite of the fact that the movie struck me as the cinematic equivalent of a Thomas Kinkade painting. Light was cast from a dedicated perspective. I believe it disrespects and dehumanizes the extraordinary man and amazing ballplayer, Jackie Robinson, by reducing him to a stereotypical hero/deity rather than presenting him as he was. The reality of the great human man who inspired generations of children of all races would have been the better story.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

*Our Movie Rating System:

  • Dud Chinese-manufactured ammo: Stay home and do housework. You’ll have more fun.
  • .22 rim fire:  Not worth the big screen, but ok to rent.
  • .380: Go to the matinée if someone else is paying.
  • .38 special: Worth paying for the matinée yourself.
  • .357 magnum: Okay to upgrade to prime time if you can stand the crowd.
  • .44 magnum: Must see this. Potentially life-altering event.
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15 comments on “42–The Jackie Robinson Story

  1. Julie Glover says:

    I drooped a little reading this review. The true story of Jackie Robinson is indeed a wonderful one. Thus, I wanted this movie to be as awesome as it could be. I will likely see it (at home, like I see almost all movies these days) because of the story itself, the actors involved, and that it’s about baseball. I had hoped to add this movie to a list of fabulous baseball films that inspire and entertain. But I do get irked to no end when filmmakers decide to rewrite history, and then people who haven’t studied that particular part of history think the movie is how it all happened. *sigh* Thanks for sharing your two cents, Piper.

    • Bill Parker says:

      I really don’t think this movie rewrites history as much as it hits all the high points in a story that’s way too complicated to tell fairly in two hours. I think most people who like baseball and Jackie will love watching this movie.

  2. My son is learning about World War II in 8th grade right now. He is studying the Holocaust, and he has been learning about the history of racism in the United States for all of this year. I’m not surprised that the Hollywood movie didn’t give us the picture of the Man. THIS is why, when Spike Lee decided to make Malcolm X, he wanted complete control, and he made a 3-hour film which is amazingly true to Alex Haley’s book of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. That film showed Malcolm Little as a person. He was a preacher’s son, a stupid idiot who got arrested, a man who hung out with white women, a man who didn’t like his hair and chose to conk it (straighten it so as to look more “white”). We saw him as a hard-worker, a studious person, an open mind, a man who believed, first, in separatism, and later, in unity. But it was a long journey. And white audiences didn’t show up in droves to see it.

    Still, it is one of my favorite books and films.

    I’m guessing Hollywood did what movies always do. They take a moment and reduced it to create the best they can with their budget. Thanks for sharing. I’ll wait until we can watch it at home.

    (In other sports news, I would also point out on this day after the Masters, there are still only TWO women members at Augusta in Georgia. One is Condololeeza Rice and the other is financeer, Darla Rice. They rarely play at Augusta. While it was very nice and progressive that women were invited to join last August, it’s pretty clear at Augusta National that women are meant not to be seen very often, and certainly not to be heard. Sadly, racism, sexism, (and a whole lot of “isms”) are alive and kicking.

  3. Catie Rhodes says:

    After seeing the comments you made about this yesterday, I HAD to read your review. I think you did a fine job of expressing your thoughts about this movie–which I won’t see, not because of your review but because I sit through maybe 1 or 2 movies a year. I don’t know what has happened to my attention span. I can read for six hours. When it comes to movies, I am bored in 40 minutes.

    Anyway…thank you, Piper, for expressing your opinions honestly and fearlessly. You know I love it when people fart proudly.

  4. Bill Parker says:

    I’m afraid that as a baseball fan/writer/amateur historian, I have to disagree a little bit with most of your paragraph beginning “However, unlike the movie portrayal….”

    First, this: “Robinson was not the only black player in the Montreal Royals. In fact, the International League had a number of minorities in their ranks at the time he joined.” Robinson was signed in November, 1945; the International League was whites-only (by explicit agreement, as I understand it, unlike Major League Baseball) from 1890 until 1946 (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/27/sports/27hall.html?pagewanted=2&sq=jackie%20robinson%202006&st=cse&scp=18&_r=0). It’s true that two other black players — pitchers Johnny Wright and Roy Partlow — debuted with the Royals at the same time Robinson did, but they were there essentially as sidekicks to Jackie, to attempt to keep him from feeling too left out. Both performed poorly and were demoted to a lower-level team by mid-summer, appearing with the Royals for a combined total of 12 games (compare to Jackie’s 124) and 35 innings pitched. While I’d gladly watch a whole movie that was about only Wright and Partlow (or either), I don’t think their omission from this film can be viewed as a flaw, given the tiny parts they played in Robinson’s story. (I haven’t been able to find any information regarding other minorities in the IL at that time — if they existed and it’s out there, I’d really love to see it.) Almost the only film coverage of the Montreal days came from spring training in the South, which no doubt was quite a bit more difficult than the regular season.

    Then: “Also, the Brooklyn Dodgers largely welcomed him to their team with only a handful of his teammates objecting.” This was probably largely true by the end of the season, which (totally non-shocking spoiler!) is what the movie portrays. The strife shown in the movie — the widely signed petition, the showdown with Leo Durocher over it, the incidents with Dixie Walker and Bobby Bragan, the sort of internal battle within Pee Wee Reese — all, as far as anybody alive knows or is willing to say, really happened in just that way. The best thing I’ve read on these events and that Dodgers season (and now just $3!) is this book: http://www.amazon.com/Opening-Day-Jackie-Robinsons-ebook/dp/B000OVLIKG/ref=tmm_kin_title_0

    “Throughout the baseball world, there were mixed reactions to opening major league baseball teams to racial minorities, and for every white person who was against it, there was another white person who would not have cared if Robinson was a Martian as long as he could hit. Young people watching this movie would never know that.” I don’t think this is fair to the movie. For every Walker or Bragan, there was a Gene Hermanski or Ralph Branca (who I’ve met, great and fascinating guy) or Eddie Stanky or, ultimately, Reese. Of course the film is going to focus more on the tension than on the good guys, the former being what makes a movie interesting. I don’t think it’s at all true that the film depicted white people in general as sort of an angry unified mob against Jackie (except in certain parts of the south, where that was almost literally the case). Also have to consider that rich white guy Branch Rickey was portrayed in the film (in my eyes) as almost an equally heroic figure to Robinson.

    Anyway. I don’t think it was a great movie, although I had a great time watching it. It glossed over a lot of things, and no doubt Robinson, (as is much more of your point than the part I’ve focused on) was a much, much more complicated figure than that. I read that one paragraph, despite the disclaimer in the paragraph before, as suggesting things weren’t really as bad for Robinson as the movie suggests, and in fact they were really, REALLY bad, and I think the movie did a pretty fair job of showing that. He had more flaws than this movie shows (all humans do), but what he DID for baseball and for the country was simply superhuman.

  5. Jess Witkins says:

    Hi Piper! I’m late to the party, but after reading your FB comments I had to come see too. I think your review is incredibly well written and shares a critical, but not offensive, viewpoint of film. I think it is difficult to write about such a big historical figure who was also an athlete. We tend to treat our athletes like gods, which is yes, a generalization, but one that does occur. So I think having that take place in the film is very likely. But I appreciate your ability to question what that does to viewers. I’ll probably wait to see this movie until it comes out on DVD. And will watch it a little critically myself. It’s still inspiring.

  6. My husband and I are considering going to see this movie, so I really appreciate your treatment of it. I have a pet peeve in general about the way sports figures are placed on pedestals and true heroes are ignored, so I tend to avoid sports movies. However, in this case, I think Jackie Robinson is someone we do have reason to respect. It’s disappointing to hear they deify him rather than giving a more accurate portrayal. We’ll probably see it in theaters regardless.

  7. tomwisk says:

    It’s about time. Your review may be seen as not exactly PC, what with Jackie Robinson being black and all. He was a man with all the flaws and foibles of a man. Now if you want to see some pasteurized BS see The Jackie Robinson Story starring the man himself and Ruby Dee.

  8. KM Huber says:

    A most thoughtful review, Piper, a rarity except on this blog.
    Karen

  9. Piper Bayard says:

    Thank you to everyone leaving a comment here today.

  10. Gerry Charb says:

    Good article Piper!

    There was another movie made years ago I saw on television as a child which dealt with the Jackie Robinson story. I remember it being a more auto-biographical offering than this current almost exploitative Harrison Ford piece of celluloid. Perhaps the Turner Network would have this original film in its archival treasury. The film at that time in its humble way depicted the psychological turmoil and social stigmatizing that Robinson faced, endured and eventually overcame.

  11. Thanks for all the info, Piper! I’m not a big sports-movie fan, so this may not be quite what I’m looking for, but the hubby will like it.

  12. lynettemburrows says:

    Thank you for telling it as you saw it, Piper. I have not seen this particular movie, but I understand your frustration. I have felt the same way about other movies that fail to give us rounded characters – real people. I am undecided as to whether I’ll see this one. Your review and others have given me pause.

  13. Great post.
    Hope people read it – and read what is written in the post, the words – not what they wish to see and to read.
    Sad that everything has a spin these days to reinforce one side or the other…facts used to be cherished.
    The ability to see things through the lens of that specific era, accept the good and bad, and then move on to do better also seems to be fading. Unless that slide changes, things will only slide downhill even faster
    …of course that’s a glittering generality which defeats even the best attempt…especially if flung by a celebrity.
    Nicely done.

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