THE BLOG
04/16/2013 04:29 pm ET Updated Jun 16, 2013

Popcorn Preview: 42

Film: 42 (2013)
Cast includes: Chadwick Boseman (The Kill Hole), Harrison Ford (Clear and Present Danger), Nicole Beharie (American Violet), Christopher Meloni (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit)
Writer/Director: Brian Helgeland (Mystic River, The Order)
Genre: Drama | Biography | Sports (128 minutes)

"In 1945, America's greatest generation comes home from the war.... Baseball is proof positive that democracy reigns." With 16 major league teams, there are 400 players... [correction]... 400 white players. Negros have their own league. "I have a plan," says Brooklyn Dodgers' owner, Branch Rickey. "Everyone in baseball is going to be against me, but I'm going to bring in a Negro player." "Have you lost your mind?!" But Mr. Rickey isn't backing down. "New York is full of Negro baseball fans. Business isn't black and white... every dollar is green." So the search begins. Mr. Rickey rules out some of the better-known players, and zeroes in on a young player who went to UCLA... "He's used to playing with whites." He was court marshaled for not sitting in the back of the bus, but that might be a good sign. Besides... "He's a Methodist. I'm a Methodist. And God is a Methodist."

Jack Roosevelt Robinson gets an interview. What Mr. Rickey wants to know is whether Jack can control his temper, so he taunts him. "You want a player who doesn't have the guts to fight back?" asks Jack. "No," Mr. Rickey says. "I want a player who has the guts not to fight back." The salary turns out to be acceptable. "You give me a number on my back and I'll give you the guts." This means Jack can finally ask Rachel to marry him. "I'll follow you anywhere," she says. But the California girl isn't used to White Only restrooms and getting bumped from flights because of the color of her skin. Greyhound bus turns out to be the only way to get to spring training in Daytona. That's when the Robinsons meet Wendell Smith, a sports reporter for the Pittsburgh Courier. Mr. Rickey has hired the ambitious Negro journalist to be Robinson's "advance man." Wendell also has a car. The Florida weather may be warm, but that's the only thing warm about Jackie's welcome. "Is this about politics?" a team member demands to know. "It's about getting paid," says Robinson. It doesn't take long for Jackie to demonstrate his abilities... if pitchers won't give him anything to hit, he'll get points by stealing them. A young fan puts his finger on it... "He's discombobulated them." Indeed he has.

It's still a long road from Daytona to the slightest glimmer of acceptance in the big league. But as Robinson points out, "God built me to last." Decades before Martin Luther King lead a movement, Jackie Robinson stood alone as the sole focus of America's racial hatred. While 42 doesn't show the full gritty reality, it's a wonderful tribute to Robinson and those who worked behind the scenes to make baseball a more democratic institution. Just like western movies, baseball movies have an honored tradition. They illustrate the virtue of fairness and leave us feeling good about the values we cherish, even if getting there has been painful. Except for a bit of unfortunate over-acting by Harrison Ford, 42 gives us everything we want in a baseball movie. It has an excellent script with many quotable lines. The lead, played by Chadwick Boseman, has the low-key charisma we remember in Robinson. (He even looks a lot like him.) At one point the teammates get up a petition to get rid of the Negro player. After a harsh rebuke, the manager leaves them with a final thought... "And think about this... he's only the first."

3 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
When Jackie Robinson became the first Negro player in the big league, it wasn't at all certain that he'd make it

Popcorn Profile
Rated: PG-13
Audience: Teens to Grown-ups
Distribution: Mainstream wide release
Mood: Upbeat
Tempo: Cruises comfortably
Visual Style: High-end production
Character Development: Engaging
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Informative & Thought provoking

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