Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) is at the plate many times in 42, Brian Helgeland’s effective, occasionally rousing film that focuses on Robinson’s first few years in the majors with the Brooklyn Dodger organization.
In one particularly disturbing early scene, a young boy watches and listens as his father and the stadium crowd hurl racial epithet after racial epithet while Robinson is at bat. The scene’s payoff reveals a lot about America at that point in time: how bigotry begets bigotry, and how the sins of the fathers are all too easily passed to the sons. One of the movie’s strengths is it doesn’t flinch from presenting this darker side of Americana—the shuttered doors, the closed minds, the veiled (and not-so-veiled) threats–while also taking the time to show that there were those who were more than a little progressive and accepting of the notion of equality and fair play (in more ways than one).
42 is by far the best film about Jackie Robinson (Mr. Robinson starred in his own life story, a low-budget, sincere 1950 film that was perhaps made too soon) and certainly one of the best baseball movies. For one thing, the actors in this film can actually play baseball (have you seen Pride of the Yankees lately? The Babe Ruth Story? Even…dare I say it…The Natural? I rest my case). 42, through Boseman’s skillful portrayal, lets you see Robinson’s fierce skill on the base paths, gleefully intimidating pitchers and catchers alike with his taunting leads and dazzling speed. Boseman’s Robinson is no saint—he is a mature, intelligent, fierce, proud player who impresses Dodgers executive Branch Rickey (a colorful, very entertaining character turn by Harrison Ford) with his skill—and restraint. Throughout the film, Bozeman shows the conflicted side of Robinson as he tries to be the “player who has the guts not to fight back”—in spite of the emotional toll it must have cost. Nicole Beharie does some nice work—though the role is limited-as Robinson’s strong, supportive wife.
As for Robinson’s teammates and opponents (sometimes one and the same), while there are some attempts to add layers to the players, many of them come off as defined by their prejudice, or lack of it, though Lucas Black and Hamish Linklater fare rather well as Pee wee Reese and Ralph Branca, two who were among the first to accept Robinson. Chris Meloni and Max Gail offer sturdy support as fiery Dodgers manager Leo Durocher and his reluctant replacement (because of Durocher’s year-long suspension), Burt Shotton. Alan Tudyk makes a vivid impression as the cocky Phillies skipper Ben Chapman, whose incessant racial rants at Robinson almost drive the player to the breaking point. Finally, John McGinley does a bang-up job as the Dodgers announcer, Red Barber, neatly delivering Barber’s wry observations throughout. Even if you’re not a baseball fan, you’ll find plenty of value in 42.
Robert Redford is on the run in The Company You Keep. It really isn’t a run, since Redford’s character is more of a jogger—and this kind of defines the pace of the film: a measured, textured look at a man forced to come to terms with the choices of his youth and a past that threatens to destroy him. Redford plays a former underground militant wanted for robbery and murder-who has managed to stay below the FBI’s radar under an assumed identity as an Albany defense attorney. Trouble comes when another former member (Susan Sarandon) is arrested, and intrepid reporter Shia LaBoeuf (!) follows the trail and does what the FBI (led by a surly Terrence Howard) couldn’t do—expose Redford’s real identity and turn him into a most-wanted fugitive. LaBoeuf’s subsequent dogged digging leads him to something else…the possibility that Redford may not be guilty…
Redford’s cross-country flight—mainly to find the one person who can clear his name-leads him to clandestinely call on his old underground comrades; these encounters are the most interesting in the film, as these characters reflect on the cause, their choices and sacrifices, and their eventual disillusionment. Nick Nolte is endearing, if more gravelly than usual, as Redford’s helpful old friend, while Richard Jenkins contributes a sharp portrayal as a rebel turned history professor who would prefer not to get involved. Julie Christie also delivers as the still unrepentant former member who might be able to clear Redford’s name; her vitality and beauty undimmed with time, she delivers a charge every time she appears.
The Company You Keep is flawed to be sure-some of the plot points don’t really hold up to scrutiny, and the pace isn’t fast enough to glide past these shortcomings. In addition, Mr. LaBoeuf is (still) too lightweight a presence to hold his own—although he has tentatively added a sense of humor to his limited repertoire. Yet the movie does hold the interest throughout and the seasoned actors expertly convey the script’s themes about, among other things, regret, loyalty, responsibility, and redemption. Redford and company make this worth catching.