Chris Hicks: We need more movies like '42'

Published: Thursday, April 18 2013 4:30 p.m. MDT

This film image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in a scene from "42."

D. Stevens, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Went to a movie the other day. It had no shaky-cam, no desaturated colors, no rapid-fire three-second edits. The story was linear, the characters felt real and honest. No distractions.

There was some foul language but not a lot, save the repeated (but not to excess) use of a particular racial epithet that was integral to the story. No sex, no nudity (even in the locker-room shower scene). There was a bit of violence but nothing extreme or gory. The film even invokes the Bible and Jesus, and not in a negative way.

The story is true, though a few minor cinematic liberties are taken, as always happens. Several critics have complained that the film is not “warts and all,” that it isn’t as “gritty” as it could be, that it “softens” the story and the main character, which could have been fleshed out with some of his real-life flaws.

But at a time when our cinematic heroes are all fanciful, wearing skin-tight costumes and flapping capes, and demonstrating superhuman powers, it’s quite refreshing to see a movie about a real, grounded person overcoming great but human odds to make the world a better place.

And in several reviews the phrase “old-fashioned” surfaced … as if that’s a bad thing.

The movie is, of course, “42,” the story of Jackie Robinson cracking baseball’s color barrier in 1947.

But “42” is not Robinson’s life story. His personal life naturally comes into play but the focus is on Robinson’s relationship with the sport he loved, and also with the man who hired him to be the first black player in Major League Baseball, Branch Rickey.

The innovative Brooklyn Dodgers’ president and general manager had been looking at players in the Negro leagues for a few years, confident he would recognize the one with the right amount of talent and the strength of character to lead desegregation in baseball. Rickey found that man in Jackie Robinson, and together they made history.

The film depicts Rickey as an idealistic man, though he downplays that aspect himself, saying that the move also makes business sense. But it’s obvious that the action he takes is motivated by something more than dollar signs.

After settling on Robinson as the man for the job, Rickey tells a colleague, “He’s a Methodist. I’m a Methodist. God’s a Methodist.” Later he advises Robinson to follow the example of Jesus in “turning the other cheek,” meaning he will have to withstand the inevitable taunts and threats without reacting in any way other than by taking the high road, and by winning baseball games.

“42” has also been criticized for its casting, some reviews suggesting that as Robinson, Chadwick Boseman is a bit soft, and that as Rickey, Harrison Ford is too broad. But neither performance struck me as being in the least bit off.

Boseman seems perfect as the tightly coiled, suspicious Robinson, unsure at first of what to believe as his place in history begins to unfold and Rickey’s predictions of opposition play out as expected. He also projects the inner strength and fortitude, as well as the baseball-playing chops, necessary to fill out the character and allow the audience to embrace him as a person rather than an icon on a pedestal.

As for Ford, well, he’s been a tall, strapping, heroic leading man for so long (he’s Han Solo and Indiana Jones for cryin’ out loud) that it may simply be difficult for some to separate his screen persona from this hunched over, cigar-chomping, late-in-life character — and by all accounts, he was a character. But I had no such difficulty.

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