I smell a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Mr. Harrison Ford, oh yes I do.
42: The Jackie Robinson Story is pretty much everything you expect it to be, but that’s not a bad thing. Set in the 1940s when segregation was rampant across the United States, certainly in Major League Baseball, 42 takes you from Branch Rickey‘s initial offer to young “Jack” Robinson through training with the Montreal Royals and all the way to the Brooklyn Dodgers‘ National League pennant win in 1947. There are several very upsetting scenes depicting the type of racism Robinson was forced to endure, but, again, they do not come as much of a surprise given what we already know about that era.
What does come as a surprise: Director Brian Helgeland wanted nothing to do with Harrison Ford. He wanted the entire cast to be made up of unknowns so that the actors wouldn’t be “bigger than the movie” and make it all about them instead of “the story”, but as soon as old Harry got a glimpse of the script he had to be a part of it. When Helgeland finally agreed to meet with the borderline-desperate 70-year-old actor (yes, 70!), Ford blew him away by performing several scenes from memory, having closely studied Rickey’s accent, mannerisms, etc., and he got the part. (This information is coming from a baseball-themed issue of the American Airlines inflight magazine American Way. Those things aren’t half bad when you’ve stupidly only brought one book with you on a seven-hour flight.)
Fun Fact: Being the human IMDB that I am, throughout the movie I noticed some of the secondary characters are played by Grey’s Anatomy’s George O’Malley and Richard Webber, Friday Night Lights’ Billy Riggins and Law & Order SVU’s Elliot Stabler (known of late to me as Oz’s Chris Keller). Fun!
So, I highly recommend this movie, and I applaud studio execs for a very well-timed release date at the start of the super-long baseball season. I also highly recommend a book of which I was reminded after reading the aforementioned magazine: Wait Til Next Year: A Memoir by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I read it for an Advanced Placement Composition assignment seven years ago, and although I don’t remember much about the assignment I do remember how much I enjoyed reading this woman’s childhood memories of being a Brooklyn Dodgers fan in the years leading up to them finally defeating the New York Yankees in the World Series. These days I don’t care much for baseball, but books like that and movies like 42 sure do make me appreciate the history of it all.