I tend to write about heroes. When I do, it’s usually about fictional characters who swing from rooftops, leap tall buildings in a single bound, have high tech armor, or a magic hammer. You get the idea. But there are other types of heroes, and I got to see a story about some real world ones tonight.
They were real people, if dramatized. They didn’t wear costumes, although one wore a uniform. I saw 42 tonight, and I’m talking about Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey. And they were, indeed, heroes. They didn’t save lives, but they improved them. And they at least as much courage as the comic book characters I enjoy so much.
I thought this move was fantastically done. It would have been easy to go over the top with the situations, or characters, and I don’t think they did. I think they kept it fairly realistic, and very, very inspiring.
Yes, the writers based their story on real events. But they did it very well. It’s easy to do with this kind of story, but they made you root for the heroes, and showed the villains as mean, small, and fearful.
Branch Rickey gets asked several times why he’s pushing so hard to put Jackie Robinson into white baseball. He answers different ways at different times, at one point getting off a great line about (and I’m paraphrasing, forgive me, I should have taken notes) “There are a lot of Negro baseball fans in Brooklyn. And they buy a lot of tickets. Dollars aren’t black or white. They’re all green.” Later, Robinson pins him down, and Rickey finally tells the real motivation. Years ago, he played baseball, I believe at the college level, and there was a great player who happened to be black. He wasn’t allowed to develop his talents because of that. Rickey felt he didn’t do enough to help him.
This entire movie had a great cast, and it’s too easy to get lost talking about some of the supporting cast. But make no mistake, Chadwick Boseman, the man playing Jackie Robinson, is the star, and he’s amazing. Quiet strength, determination, barely suppressed rage, he shows them all, and does a fantastic job of showing a man who wasn’t perfect, but was damned impressive.
As good as the movie was, it missed on a few places. The Dodgers, when first learning Robinson was coming, ended up circulating a petition among the players, who refused to share the field with a black man. We never see Robinson’s reaction to that, and I wanted to. The team was eventually won over by Robinson’s spirit and skill, but how did he feel about them turning their backs on him before they met him?
Similarly, there seemed to be a lot of build up around the character of replacement coach Burt Shotton. Burt was brought out of retirement, almost against his will, when Leo Durocher, the team manager, was suspended for a season. There was an odd scene or two where they seemed to be building to something with him, and then it never happened. I suspect some scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.
But the movie certainly hit more than it missed. Legend Pee Wee Reese apparently considered backing out of some games after he received a threatening letter, and went to talk to Rickey, the owner. In response, Rickey showed him the folders full of hate mail addressed to Robinson, and Reese had his eyes opened, showing later what great character he had.
I’m going to spend a moment also on Rickey’s religion, and why I think it worked so well here. I have a fairly healthy mistrust of most, if not all, organized religion. It’s been my experience it gets perverted into something it was never meant to be far too often. Rickey, as seen here, uses religion in what I consider to be the perfect way. He derives a moral code from it, uses it to hold himself to a high standard, and makes himself do something difficult in pursuit of that standard. He doesn’t really get preachy, or run down anyone else on religious grounds. He just drives himself to be better, and drags along a few other people on the way.
This was a fantastic movie. And, if you consider yourself a fan of heroes, like I do, it gives you a bit to think about. I like my superheroes and their kind just fine. But it’s nice to see some real life heroes from time to time, too. And that’s what you see at the core of this movie. Robinson, a hero for his physical courage, his amazing skill, and his restraint in not falling to the level of his many, many, detractors. And Rickey, pushing for what he thought was right, even if it meant causing him all manner of problems along the way.
I hugely recommend this movie, to anyone that likes baseball, roots for the underdog, likes to see the good guys come out on top, or even is just a fan of a really good story. Chadwick Boseman was amazing as Jackie Robinson, and Harrison Ford, a personal favorite, gave a fantastic performance as Branch Rikey. In a year that has hero fare from Man Of Steel, Lone Ranger, Iron Man 3, and Thor 2, among others, coming out, this might end up being my favorite movie of the year. From a guy who spends so much time reading and writing about costumed adventurers, that means a lot.