Saturday, April 13, 2013

42 4/13/13

I cannot write about director Brian Helgeland’s new movie 42 and be clearly objective since baseball is so tied up with some of my greatest childhood feelings of elation and sorrow. I sat in the darkened theater choked up with tears in my eyes – pure nostalgia – for how much baseball meant to my twin sister and I, and the passion with which we rooted for rival teams - Florence was the Brooklyn Dodgers fan and I was an avid New York Giants fan. During the baseball season, my father who personally cared nothing about the game, took us weekends on the subway either to Ebbets Field or the Polo Grounds whenever the teams played at home. Our shared sibling bedroom wall was divided down the middle – like an iron curtain - with posters of Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, Carl Furillo, Roy Campanella, etc. on her side of the room, and Willie Mays, Don Mueller, Bobby Thomson, Monte Irvin, Hank Thompson, Sal Maglie, etc. on mine.

42 is an interesting, and admittedly sentimental, baseball film about the intense desire of Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), the Brooklyn Dodger’s General Manager to integrate baseball and to find the one baseball player in The Negro Leagues who could withstand the pressure and racism that Rickey knew would be heaped upon the super athlete who broke the “color barrier” in this our National – NOT All- American pastime. That person was Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) and the choice was an ideal one as he was a great baseball player (42 was the number on his uniform) who had enough confidence to brave and confront this heroic task, not with his temper, but with his bat and glove on the baseball diamond. Off the field we are offered an intimate love story between Jackie and his beautiful wife Rachel (Nicole Beharie) who is as spirited as he is, and from the onset of their relationship his main supporter notwithstanding the simplistic Hollywood-style treatment of woman as helpmeet.

 The film is not reluctant nor does it gloss over the prevalence of racism wherever Robinson played; be it on the field, among teammates, in the stands, in the baseball administrative hierarchy, and of course in the showers. Chadwick Boseman looks like Jackie Robinson and gives an admirably stoic performance deflecting the taunts and abuse – both verbal and physical thrown at him– while still maintaining his character’s dignity. I was distracted seeing Harrison Ford’s strangely warped make up, and his theatrical depiction as Branch Rickey, a character who spouts the Bible and Greek mythology in one breath, as well as avuncular philosophical advice with the next. I personally loved seeing baseball legends, those I had actually seen play, such as Pee Wee Reese, Ralph Branca,  Eddie Stanky,  Enos Slaughter and Leo – oh that philanderer!- Leo Durocher “revealed/exposed” through their interactions with Jackie Robinson.

The theater erupted with applause at the end of the movie. I too clapped – something I rarely ever do, knowing that in my case memory and the personal were the measure of my response. Before I even left the theater I called my sister. No, this was not a great movie, but yes, it was great entertainment and its message should be told over and over again to the men and women and particularly the youth that will be its audience. 

No comments:

Post a Comment