“L.A. Confidential” writer Brian Helgeland takes on racism in 1940s America within the white lines of the baseball diamond in “42”, his true-life bio pic of baseball legend Jackie Robinson, the first black man to ever play Major League Baseball. And you thought your life was tough? Trying being the guy to break MLB’s color barrier, playing against people who fundamentally believes, with every fiber of their being, that you are a lesser human being exclusively because of the color of your skin. Now that’s tough! Witness the courage it took to fight that kind of hatred in “42”, which now arrives on DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of Warner Home video.
Hero is a word we hear often in sports, but heroism is not always about achievements on the field of play. “42” tells the story of two men – the great Jackie Robinson and legendary Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey – whose brave stand against prejudice forever changed the world by changing the game of baseball. In 1946, Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) put himself at the forefront of history when he signed Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) to the team, breaking Major League Baseball’s infamous color line. But the deal also put both Robinson and Rickey in the firing line of the public, the press and even other players. Facing unabashed racism from every side, Robinson was forced to demonstrate tremendous courage and restraint by not reacting in kind, knowing that any incident could destroy his and Rickey’s hopes. Instead, Number 42 let his talent on the field do the talking – ultimately winning over fans and his teammates, silencing his critics, and paving the way for others to follow.
How do you fight historical racism? You’ll need a little bit of help. Brian Helgeland’s “42” had two — Harrison Ford, playing stubborn Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey, who decides he wants to put a stake in MLB’s unspoken whites-only rule, and Chadwick Boseman, who is flat-out perfect as Jackie Robinson. “42” features strong performances from Ford and Boseman as they take on everything the world can throw at them, and damn can the world throw a lot at them. Boseman in particular is outstanding as Robinson, a man who stands tall and tough when others would have surely buckled.
It’s hard to really understand what Robinson went through back in the ’40s. We hear stories about it now and it seems unreal, but Robinson was a game-changer not only for sports, but for America. Ask your kids who their favorite athlete is, and chances are he or she will name a black player. Which is why Helgeland’s “42” is such a striking film, both in its detail of the era as well as in its story. Although it can be pretty uncomfortable at times, it is ultimately an empowering movie, and tells a story that can’t be told often enough. The film also features excellent supporting performances from Nicole Beharie as Jackie’s wife, who may just be as tough as her husband, if not tougher.
The “42” Blu-ray Combo Pack arrives with three featurettes, each one about 9-10 minutes long. You also get the film on Ultraviolet, and of course, there’s your choice of “42” on DVD or Blu-ray. I would go with Blu-ray myself. People still watch movies on standard DVD?
The featurettes are interesting if you’re into baseball history. “Stepping Into History” spends most of its time on stars Harrison Ford (Branch Rickey) and Chadwick Boseman (Jackie Robinson), while “Full-Contact Baseball” explores what baseball was really like back in the “old days”. And finally, “The Legacy of the Number 42” is just that — a look at what Jackie Robinson meant to baseball and to African-Americans in society. That’s about it for special features, but this is definitely one of those films where the special features are just gravy. If you’re going to buy it, you’ll be buying it for the movie.