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IN SHORT: It's all over the place ad campaigns had us prepared for a major-sized bomb. It's not. See it. [Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including language. 128 minutes]
Once Upon A Time there were the American baseball leagues and the Negro baseball league. Separate and Equal, or unequal depending on your POV. As the situation is summarized in writer/director Brian Helgeland's 42, "[the US Army] went to Italy to free them from fascists and (they) come back to our own fascist baseball league." or someting close to that.
Once Upon A Similar Time, Cranky's grandfather bought a house in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York. There he raised a family, including Cranky's dad who, for a nickel and a long walk on younger legs, could head over to Ebbets Field in Flatbush proper, to watch the Brooklyn Dodgers play pro baseball. Dad was in the Army until 1948. The Dodgers he returned to were an entirely different team. Here is why . . .
The Brooklyn, New York Dodgers -- "da Bums" to the locals -- were as beloved as they were terrible. Leo Durocher (Christopher Meloni) is the manager, though he spends most of his time managing to cheat on his wife. Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) is the General Manager of the team. A man who is color blind to any but the one color that counts: green. With a failing club sucking the cash out of his bank accounts, Rickey knows that something radical has to be done to bring in more revenue. Heck, someone had to buy all that peanuts an crackerjack! "Professional" League Baseball was downright elderly compared to younger leagues staffed with players forbidden from the game because of the color of their skin. The fact of the matter was that, in most of the country, North and South, the Civil War never ended.
So Rickey and his management staff went searching, quietly, for one player who not only was good enough to hold his own against any of the other "professional" players in the major Leagues. He also had to have the internal fortitude not to fight back, regardless of who started it or how nasty it got, on field or off. The choice was Jack Robinson (Chadwik Boseman), a player in Kansas City. A WWII vet court martialed for refusing to sit in the back of a bus. There may have been better players in the Negro Leagues, but Robinson was younger. As wiling as Robinson may have been to fight back, his instructios were simple: "It doesn't matter who started the ruckus, you're the one who will get the blame," says Rickey. How the Robinson character manages is two fold: His wife Rachel has a newborn boy to raise, and the very presence of a person of color on the same field with "pro" players gives Robinson a psychological advantage that he exploits to no end. He's fast. He can hit. And when things get nasty he refuses to roll over.
It isn't just that the country is racist. Robinson's own teammates circulate a petition stating they will not play with him on the roster. And while actor Harrison Ford could have used his star power to overtake the story, he refuses to do so. GIve the man props. Rickey asks Pittsburgh Courier sports writer Wendell Smith (Andre Holland) to look after the newbie . . . Smith isn't allowed a seat in the press box because he, too, is colored. As chauffeur and confidante to the player while they are on the road. Robinson is housed in private homes as local hotels will not allow him to room with the rest of the Dodgers teammates.Manager Leo Durocher (Christopher Meloni), a gambler and a a ladies man who lets his lusts get in the way of his professional ambitions is suspended as the Bums of Brooklyn start rising in the standings towards the 1947 National League pennant. With an interim manager, Burt Shotton (Max Gail) some very interesting things begin to happen.
"How far we have come in the last 65 or so years," was the thought running through Cranky's mind as the audience applause for 42 faded in our theater. Halfway or so through the film,circa 1946, one character -- Phillies manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) -- is called on the carpet for the abusive, racist language he uses, while trying to get under Robinson's skin during a Spring Training game; Robinson plays for the Dodgers Montreal farm team. "What's the big deal?," is the jist of his response as he names several (soon to be) legendary baseball players and equates them with the slur de jour. It doesn't matter; Italian. or Jewish. or Hispanic . . . if you don't know the slur ask your parents. Or better yet, be glad said slurs aren't part of your vocabulary. It is behavior that blows my mind.
We hate using words like "important," especially when it comes to stories involving American History. We will make the exception. We never saw Jackie Robinson play -- the Dodgers fled Brooklyn the year we were born. But with out Jackie Robinson we would not have gotten to see Willie Mays or Elston Howard or Hank Aaron and on and on. 42 has the pace of a baseball game. It is slow. Like the best of the games in pro ball, it builds into something remarkable to watch.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to 42, he would have paid . . .
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