Niagara Gazette

Sports

April 14, 2013

New Jackie Robinson film pitches right down the middle

Niagara Gazette — So just how equal were opportunities in Jackie Robinson’s America?

Consider this:

Three years after 42’s debut with the Dodgers, Hollywood moved to make a movie of his life, so far. Not one black actor was considered appropriate for the role! Robinson played himself, and quite well, with Ruby Dee as Rachel. Coming in at a little more than an hour (not uncommon for the time), it was well-received then and has stood the test of the decades.

Still…

Now, two-thirds of a century after announcer Red Barber had to drink himself into the notion of socializing with a darker-hued fellow citizen, “42” catches up with Jackie Robinson. The lead role is played by an actor who is barely an asteroid in the vast firmament of stars of color. It opened over the weekend to enormous anticipation, the only game in town on the saturated Niagara Frontier. At a mall cinema in rural Genesee County, more than 100 people joined us – ethnically, they could have been a major-league baseball roster from 1945.

To coin baseball phraseology, “42” plays within itself. It charts the immediate before and after of Robinson’s rookie year. Chadwick Boseman, slightly shy of Robinson’s remarkable musculature, brings a riveting blend of dignity and frustration. Harrison Ford invests Branch Rickey, Robinson’s singular champion, with a whole Millenium Falconful of piety, practicality and sometimes friendly persuasion. Many in Genesee County took a rain delay to dab at their eyes before filing out.

Director Brian Helgeland actually downplayed the virulent reaction to Robinson. The privations he and his newlywed Rachel’s endured trekking to spring training went far beyond their ouster from their flight in New Orleans, “to lighten the plane with a storm brewing,” while white travelers, evidently with lighter bones, were seated in their place.

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