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Review: 42
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By Stephen Browne
Stephen Browne
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By Stephen W. Browne
April 19, 2013 11:30 a.m.

Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of the Marshall Independent.
According to Entertainment Weekly, ď42Ē made Hollywood history with the highest-grossing premier of any baseball-themed movie. Which is true but almost beside the point. Itís not just about baseball, itís about honor.
Itís about men doing the right thing at a time when it was unpopular and dangerous to do so.
Itís good for people dissatisfied with current progress towards universal equality to remember things were once a lot worse. And itís good for those so proud of conspicuously having all the correct attitudes to remember there was a time when wearing those convictions on your sleeve carried a price.
ď42Ē is the story of Jackie Robinsonís first season with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946-47, that broke the color line in baseball. The number was Robinsonís, and the only number to be retired by all of baseball.
The movie, like baseball, has a star but itís about a team.
Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) president and general manager of the Dodgers, wants to break the color line. Because heís deeply offended by the stain of racism on the game he loves passionately. Because heís been carrying the humiliation for years of not having done enough for a black man who was his friend.
And because he sees a tremendous opportunity in the huge number of black baseball fans and the chance to have first pick from an untapped reservoir of talent.
Thereís an important point there. Itís good when people start to realize something is wrong, better when people realize itís not only wrong but unprofitable.
Rickey needs just the right player, an extraordinary athlete but one who can keep his temper under the worst provocation.
He finds him in Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman). Robinson plays baseball, football, basketball, and even tennis well. Heís intelligent, articulate, and high-spirited. That last characteristic having gotten him a court-martial in the Army when he refused to move to the back of a bus.
Rickey tells him heís going to have to watch that.
“Are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?” Robinson asks.
ďNo,í Rickey replies, “Iím looking for a negro with guts enough not to fight back.”
And it takes guts for sure. The film does a great job through a series of scenes showing the daily casual humilitation Robinson and his new bride Rachel (Nicole Beharie) have to put up with. And for a while it only gets worse, mounting in viciousness as Robinson goes through training and then takes the field with the Dodgers.
But they also have a lot of support from friends like African-American sports reporter Wendell Smith (Andre Holland) and a redneck-looking workman who approaches them, initially terrifying Rachel.
ďI want to tell you something,Ē he says. ďI want to tell you Iím behind you, a lot of us are. I figure if a manís got the goods he ought to have a chance.Ē
And thatís what ď42Ē is all about. There is no affirmative action in sports. A player has the goods or he doesnít, and thereís no excuse for failure and no hiding ability.
Robinson had it, and once he got on the field there was no denying it.
ďI do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a ****n’ zebra. I’m the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What’s more, I say he can make us all rich. And if any of you cannot use the money, I will see that you are all traded,” says Leo ďNice guys finish lastĒ Durocher (Christopher Meloni).
And therein lies the point about discrimination, and honor.
Any man of honor will be offended by discrimination. Because if you donít give a man a chance, youíre never going to be sure youíve deserved your accomplishments, or got them because somebody else was denied the chance.
ďIf he can take my job, heís entitled to it,Ē says shortstop Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black).
Reese has something to prove by standing up for Robinson publicly in front of his Southern relatives. This is brilliant shown in a scene where a young boy who is starting to pick up on the detestable behavior of the grownups around him – until Reese walks over to Robinson and puts his arm around him before a game.
Many who stood up for Robinson were Southerners, and some of the worst bigots were Yankees, and thank yíall most kindly for making that point.
ď42Ē makes all these points and more, but doesnít hit you over the head with them. If thereís anything at all to be regretted itís that you donít see more about some extraordinary people, but it might just inspire you to learn more about Rachel Isum Robinson, Reese, and how people like Dixie Walker (Ryan Merriman) eventually changed and grew.
Highly recommended.

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