If you're a sports fan—no, if you're a human—you will be seeing the much-ballyhooed new sports film 42 this weekend. The story of Jackie Robinson is a long-overdue tribute to the man who broke the color barrier in baseball and became a hero in a generation that sorely needed one.
Yours truly was lucky enough to snag a pass to an advanced screening in San Francisco this week, and I took in all the glory and emotion a few days early.
Even if I wasn't a Dodgers fan, I would have been moved by the film, which brings together a fantastic cast (Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and Nicole Beharie as Rachel Robinson) under an experienced writer and director (Brian Helgeland of L.A. Confidential and Mystic River fame).
But for someone who stubbornly worships The Natural and defends the cultural significance of The Sandlot, I wasn't sure how 42 would stack up against the best sports movies ever made.
Does the 90-minute story of Jackie Robinson really top Remember the Titans? Is it possibly more riveting than Field of Dreams? Can I name-drop any more awesome movies into one intro?
Here are three reasons I think 42 will become your new favorite sports movie.
Let's start with the basics. I mentioned Ford, Boseman, Beharie and Helgeland's strong work in the film to introduce this article, but it's not just a bunch of names. I was pleasantly surprised with Beharie and Boseman especially (who had amazing on-screen chemistry as the famous couple) and was truly blown away by Ford's gruff portrayal of Rickey.
The adaptation of the Jackie Robinson story was done honestly, and Helgeland's directional choices were superb. Throw in good character development and a heart-wrenching score, and it seems that the most overlooked aspects of making a movie were attended to with detail in 42.
Even though the movie is short by modern standards, and it leaves you begging for more Jackie at the end, the story moves along at a perfect pace. Helgeland found a way to toe the line between humor and drama without tipping the scale much in either direction, and we don't have to wait through any overdramatized scenes of characters wailing in vain.
It's hard for me to say that anyone in this film topped the individual performances of, say, a Robert Redford in The Natural, or Denzel Washington in Remember the Titans, but those are in an entirely different category. In 42, however, I was very pleased all around with their efforts.
One thing I really appreciated about 42 was how true it stayed to the Jackie Robinson legend. As previously mentioned, there wasn't a plethora of scenes designed to appease Hollywood and bring in a few extra dollars, which is something many sports films fall victim to.
Among sports movies based on true stories, I can't say I've seen a better portrayal of everything we've known and loved about a character. I never saw Robinson play in person, but his story has been passed from generation to generation for decades now.
Perhaps most importantly, as far as believability goes, Boseman made me believe that he is an actual athlete. I was pleasantly surprised by how well he swung the bat and ran the bases, in direct opposition to films that put quantity over quality in the acting department.
The way the game action scenes were shot made it seem extremely realistic to someone who has been watching baseball his whole life—especially impressive considering the time period it is representing.
We know from history that Robinson was a hard-working, fearless, driven athlete and an intelligent, loving person. Boseman and Helgeland made sure the main character exuded these traits in almost every scene.
When the curtain fell and the clapping began in the theater, I felt a sense of immense relief at the feeling that Helgeland created a film that did Robinson justice. Robinson is one of the most important civil heroes in American history, and that feeling really shines through in 42.
The film gives off an air of being bold and unafraid—just like Robinson was—to take on sensitive topics. For example, it is unabashed about using heaps of racial slurs to get some points across. The filmmakers knew it would make the audience feel upset and nervous and disgusted, but to be true to the story, it was the right move.
As we've heard it told, Robinson endured everything from slurs to intentional beanings to death threats to self-doubt to tension in his own clubhouse. This film made sure to cover each and every possibility to really magnify the scope of Robinson's courageous struggle.
And on the flip side, Robinson's graciousness, determination and heroism shines through brightly, ensuring that each and every movie-goer falls in love with Boseman's character.
Though the film is set in the late 1940s, when racial tensions were mounting, it is culturally significant even in today's world. I walked out of the theater with my Dodgers hat on and shared satisfied smiles with fans displaying Giants jackets, Yankees hats, A's jerseys, Cardinals backpacks and many more. As he did 65 years ago, Robinson is still bringing us together; only this time, it's projected on a screen.