Sunday, August 18, 2013

Movie Review: 42

Last night I watched the movie about Jackie Robinson, 42. I liked the movie a lot despite its flaws.  And let me get this out of the way right now: early in the film a Negro League bus is shown going down a dirt road and a text at the bottom of the screen says something like "Interstate 24, Missouri."  It's 1947 (or '46, I don't remember) and the Interstate Highway system came into being with the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 (nearly 10 years later) and even then, Interstate 24 does not enter or go through Missouri.  This is the kind of historical detail mistake that I tried very hard not to have in my historical fantasy books.

Here's what I liked about his movie: it wasn't preachy or pandering.  Jackie Robinson did not feel entitled or victimized because he is black.  He knew he had to prove himself on the field and did not expect special treatment.  In fact, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey (played very well by Harrison Ford) tell him he has to be "strong enough not to fight back" against the racism he will be subjected to.  And I liked that Rickey, a devout Christian, is portrayed positively in a Hollywood movie.  And I liked that Rickey's motivation in bringing in Robinson was not out of sympathy for Robinson, but because it was 1) the right thing to do and 2) would be profitable.  Rickey wasn't forced by any government to integrate the Major Leagues, he did it on his own.  There's a line where Rickey says "dollars aren't black or white, they're green."  He thought bringing a black man into the majors would attract more black fans and he wanted their money to buy tickets.  The free market integrated baseball, not the government.  (Later Rickey tells Robinson that he once played baseball in college with a black man and he didn't feel he did enough to help that man, and that, too, motivated him to do the right thing.)

There's another scene early in the movie (right after the "Interstate 24" error) when the Negro League bus stops at a gas station.  The owner starts pumping gas into the bus and Robinson heads for the bathroom.  The owner says he can't use the bathroom so Robinson says "We'll buy our 99 gallons of gas somewhere else."  The owner relents and allows Robinson to use the bathroom.  Again, this shows the power of the free market over racism.  Racists who refuse to take money from some people they don't like are hurting themselves and the smart ones get over it.

I also liked that Alan Tudyk was cast against type, playing a racist jerk manager rather than the usual sorta nuts nice guy he usually plays.

What I didn't like about the movie was that it was a bit heavy-handed in portraying all the racism that Robinson had to endure.  I wished it had spent more time on his accomplishments and triumphs and his personality that allowed him to endure and come through a winner.  And the climax of the film was the Dodgers winning the pennant the first year Robinson played for them.  I think for this kind of film the climax needed to be something more substantive and heart-felt, something that changed in the heart of a character.  But those are minor quibbles.  The movie has a great cast, good acting and production values, and lots of hats (I like hats). 

I thoroughly enjoyed this film.

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