directed by Brian Helgeland
(Warner Bros., 2013)

Just stepping on that diamond in Brooklyn, N.Y., on April 15, 1947, must have been the hardest thing in the world.

And yet, for slugger Jackie Robinson, it was also as natural as breathing. Robinson, who broke a 60-year ban on blacks in major-league baseball, is at the heart of a phenomenal story of courage, baseball and a nation coming to terms with its own sense of social justice in 42.

It's a baseball movie, so expect to see some good baseball. More importantly, it's Jackie Robinson's story, and actor Chadwick Boseman nails the part -- the conviction and bravery, the anger and fear, the love, the passion and the dedicated athleticism.

Harrison Ford, too, is a vital cog in the machine. As Dodgers president Branch Rickey, Ford shows us a man committed to a course of doing what's right, even when it's unpopular.

The film is blessed with a powerful story, and with actors who fit their roles to a T. Nicole Beharie is exceptional as Rachel Robinson, whose pride and love for her husband was tested by the extraordinary strain they both had to endure. The ball players -- on the Dodgers, as well as the teams that faced them -- also do a good job of showing the awkwardness of the time. For some, it grew into admiration and acceptance; for others, the hatred festered.

Kudos, too, to Alan Tudyk, who had the unenviably task of portraying a vitriolic ball of bile, Phillies manager Ben Chapman. His thuggish behavior on the diamond did more to unite the Dodgers behind Robinson than anything else ever could have, according to Rickey.

Sadly, the work begun by Jackie Robinson isn't done. Read the comments on any story about Barack and Michelle Obama, and you'll see that for a great many Americans who dislike the president, his politics aren't the problem -- it's the color of his skin.

We've come a long way, Jackie. But not far enough.

review by
Tom Knapp

8 June 2013

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