Susan Granger's review of '42'
Heroes expand our sense of what is possible, and true heroes are few and far between these days. So when the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson in 1947, it broke Major League Baseball's color barrier.
That's why writer/director Brian Helgeland, screenwriting Oscar-winner for "L.A. Confidential" (1997), can be forgiven for creating a respectful, old-fashioned, cinematic biography of a noble, courageous man who accomplished something so far beyond the normal scope of the American experience that he left an immortal memory behind. The numerical title is Robinson's uniform number, which MLB retired in 1997, commemorating the 50th anniversary of his first game.
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Many don't realize that young Jack Roosevelt Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) was a four-sport athlete at UCLA who wanted to play professionally at a time when baseball was considered a white man's game. At the same time, gruff Brooklyn Dodgers president/general manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) needed his team to win games, maintaining "dollars aren't black and white." And if green power enabled black power, so be it.
Helgeland pulls no punches about the blatant racial bigotry Robinson encountered in his rookie season and how he overcame it with grace, determination and strength -- buoyed by the support of his wife Rachel (Nicole Beharie), Rickey, Dodger teammates PeeWee Reese (Lucas Black) and Ralph Branca (Hamish Linklater) and manager Leo Durocher (Christopher Meloni), who told other players that if they objected to Robinson, they'd be traded.
Back in 1950, there was the first biopic, "The Jackie Robinson Story," in which Robinson played himself with Ruby Dee as his wife. In 1995, Spike Lee pitched a new version with
Denzel Washington as Robinson but that project never got funded.
Sports movies always have been a tough sell and only one baseball movie, the comedy/drama "A League of Their Own" (1992), has ever topped $100 million domestically, followed by "Moneyball," "The Rookie" and "Field of Dreams."
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "42" is an inspiring 7, reminding us that we need real-world heroes to expand the limits of our own aspirations.