“42: The True Story of An American Legend” hit theaters this weekend. And you don’t need to be a sports fan or a history buff to appreciate this film.
“42” tells not only Jackie Robinson’s courageous story, but also Branch Rickey’s. Rickey (played by Harrison Ford) made the bold decision to sign Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers back in 1947, breaking Major League Baseball’s color line. Rickey was a forward-thinking man in that he believed there was no place for racism in professional sports. He also possessed an opportunistic streak; he knew that at some point, teams would be employing the best players, no matter the color of their skin, and he needed to be the first so that his Brooklyn Dodgers could have a shot at the World Series. Rickey knew the opposition he would face and proceeded without reticence.
The movie centers on the relationship between Rickey and Robinson, played by Chadwick Boseman. Boseman’s portrayal of the Hall of Fame Second baseman is spot on. Not only did he develop mannerisms related to how he walked, talked and played baseball, but Boseman’s soulful strength seems to come through in a way that would lead you to believe he’s channeling Jackie. While “42” writer and director Brian Helgeland wanted to go with a lesser-known actor to play Jackie Robinson, Boseman will no longer be under the radar.
Even though Harrison Ford is a highly-acclaimed Hollywood veteran, he fought for this role like no other. Helgeland was hesitant to cast Ford because he knew audiences associate him with roles from blockbuster franchises―playing Han Solo and Indiana Jones, for example. Helgeland didn’t know if Ford had it in him to play a “character.” Ford’s persistence won out. He scored a meeting with Helgeland and put on his best Branch Rickey rendition, and the Oscar-winning writer had no choice but to cast him.
While movie fans will enjoy the “42” experience, the most meaningful praise comes from those who knew Jackie best, like his wife Rachel Robinson and former teammate and friend Don Newcombe. I talked with Newcombe and current Dodgers player Matt Kemp for “then and now” perspectives.
Follow Roxanne Wilder on Twitter @RoxanneWilder.