"42" offers unsettling and inspiring look at the life and times of Jackie Robinson

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The story of Jackie Robinson is one worth being retold, particularly to a generation that has only a vague idea of what he stood for in his time. 42 does a good job of capturing the baseball of Robinson’s time, but it is especially good in the depiction of the pervasive and vitriolic bigotry the athlete faced on a daily basis.

In 1946, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) signed Jack Roosevelt Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) to a minor league contract with the Dodgers’ Montreal Royals Farm Club. He made it clear, however, that he had every intention of promoting Robinson to the Dodgers at the start of the following season.

Rickey was aware of the obstacles facing Robinson. Not just players and managers, but umpires, owners, policemen and especially the fans were all vocal in their opposition to a black Dodger. Rickey chose Robinson because he wanted “a player with enough guts not to fight back” in the face of this opposition.

There are plenty of scenes depicting the explicit horrors of racism. In the minor leagues, down South, a police officer runs Robinson off the field saying that mixed-race baseball is against the law. A Philadelphia hotel turns away not just Robinson, but the entire Dodgers team because of the color of Robinson’s skin. In one of the more shocking and cringe-worthy scenes, the Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) delivers a tirade laced with the N-word.

Chadwick Boseman, who is relatively unknown, manages to convey the strength, compassion and frustrations of Robinson and is able to take on the complex role fairly well. In contrast to Robinson’s character, Branch Rickey is portrayed as very one-dimensional; nonetheless, this is one of Ford’s more powerful roles. A devout Methodist, Rickey’s one-liners invited laughter while his monologues gave hope.

42 does have its flaws. It feels forced towards the end, and fails to bring to life intriguing characters such as black baseball writer Wendell Smith (Andre Holland) and Montreal manager Clay Hopper (Brett Cullen).

This is, however, an important movie worth seeing.  Moments such as the one where Peewee Reese (Lucas Black) puts his arm around Robinson in front of thousands of cursing Cincinnati fans are necessary reminders of how far we’ve come.