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'42' is worth it to go see even for non-sports fans

Apr. 19, 2013 @ 09:56 AM

Even if you are not a sports fan, you will probably enjoy "42," the new movie which tells the story of the integration of major league baseball in the late 1940s.

Baseball (and boxing) movies have always done well at the American box office, with such time honored classics as 1942's "The Pride of the Yankees" (about Lou Gehrig) and "The Babe Ruth Story" in 1948, as well as recent hits like Robert Redford's portrayal in "The Natural" and "61*," the story of the Mickey Mantle/Roger Maris rivalry to break Babe Ruth's homerun record.

With the new Brian Hedgeland ("Payback," "The Order," "A Knight's Tale") directed biopic is well written (by Hedgeland, who has penned many of today's Hollywood hits) and very well acted.

Television actor Chadwick Boseman ("Persons Unknown," "Lincoln Heights") does a much better job than the actual Jackie Robinson did at portraying himself in "The Jackie Robinson Story," but that is to be expected.

What Boseman does do, is make a very believable hero, who is not of the "Aw, Shucks" reluctant variety that Tinsel Town is famous for. This film reminds me, in many ways, of Norman Jewison's 1984 sleeper hit, "A Soldier's Story," the biggest similarity being the self-assured confidence of its main character.

Boseman (as Jackie Robinson) is so unmovie-like, that it is as though he is not acting at all. The scenes with ball team owner Branch Rickey, the teammates and opponents and especially with his on screen wife are textbook Academy Award performances.

Actress Nicole Beharie ("American Violet," "The Express," "The Last Fall") is beautiful in this movie, and is much more visible in her scenes than the script meant for her to be. In any macho sports movie, the "li'l misses" is almost always a background prop at best, and usually a target for the sports stars ire and anger.

Other great second-tier performances include Lucas Black ("Friday Night Lights," "Jarhead") as teammate Pee Wee Reece, Andre Holland ("1600 Penn," "Friends With Benefits") as sportswriter Wendell Smith and Alan Tudyk ("Suburgatory," "Young Justice") as bigoted manager Ben Chapman.

A fantastic third-tier glimpse is given by John C. McGinley ("Scrubs," "Platoon," "Burn Notice") as sportswriter Red Barber, while excellent actor Chris Meloni ("Oz," "Law & Order: SVU") is wasted in a role as manager Leo Durocher.

But, the true casting genius choice is... Harrison Ford as Dodgers owner Branch Rickey. From his first appearance as the cantankerous, old Big Shot, I was thinking, "This could get old really quick," but soon changed my tune, as Ford stole the show.

The story is as much the Branch Rickey Story, as it is about Jackie Robinson, and I did not realize it until I saw a couple of documentaries several years ago, about baseball's attempt to keep the game segregated.

Ford is obviously having fun with his role, but he also portrays the part of a man who obviously had fun with Life. Although I often saw an F.D.R. like presence in Ford's performance, it was mostly the figure of a self-made man (he may not have been, but his character seemed to be) with the confidence of a character that could have jumped onto the screen as Bogart or Cagney.

He steals the show from Boseman, although the young black star has nothing to be ashamed of, as he put in an A+ performance, himself. It's just that Ford did "A++".

This movie will become a "keeper" for all baseball fans, a "must see" for sports fans, in general, and for the mere movie fan, it is definitely one that you need to see on the Big Screen.

After several weeks of minor league films, "42" scores!!!

Billy Summers is a freelance photographer who also reviews films for the Putnam Herald. He can be reached at summers855@yahoo.com.