Heroes. We know them. We read about them. They come in all shapes, sizes, hues, genders, ages. Ranging from the six-year-year-old who saves a classmate from a bully; policemen preserving civility; firemen saving victims from conflagrations; a bystander chasing a perpetrator to redeem a stolen purse. There are a myriad of ways that “heroes” are made: some born, the majority manufactured by extenuating circumstances.
“42” focuses on two formidable, remarkable men; men who recognized that change was encroaching and that they were the force of its implementation; tested at the celestial level, passing with extraordinary colors; these heroes were Branch Rickey (1881-1965), General Manager and President of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Jackie Robinson (1919-1972), the first black man to play baseball in the Major Leagues; it is an astounding, realistic story, centering on the years 1945-47; an outstanding, memorable movie, starring Harrison Ford as “Branch Rickey” and Chadwick Boseman as “Jackie Robinson”; stunning performances, worthy of Oscar nods.
More than baseball “42” (Robinson’s number) is about courage, fearlessness, immeasurable dignity. These were segregated times: bathrooms designated for “whites”/”coloreds”; hotels, neighborhoods vivisected by race; professional athletic teams, brutally divided by color. Branch Rickey (after a modest baseball career, became iconic in sport’s management) with guts of granite, challenges tradition, conventional exclusiveness and hires black, extravagantly prodigious Jackie Robinson (at UCLA he was the first athlete to win Varsity letters in four sports: baseball, football, basketball, track) to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Without saccharine sentimentality writer-director Brian Helgeland tackles vitriolic racism (squeamish scene where “Ben Chapman”, (creepy, cunning performance by Alan Tudyk) Manager of the Philadelphia Philly’s) spews, taunts Robinson at the batters box, with every pejorative, four-letter explicative his warped, depraved mind could conjure; Robinson’s stoicism under heinous pressure; sincere companionship, love, between Jackie and wife “Rachel” (sprightly and endearing depiction by Nicole Beharie); fantastic recreation of Ebbets field from archival photographs. Even for baseball neophytes, “42” is a winner.
Interestingly, President Harry Truman desegregated the Armed Forces in 1948; Rickey/Robinson two mighty men with Olympian wills changed the course of history; intrinsically, overwhelmingly defining heroism.