If you’re heading to see 42, the biopic about Brooklyn Dodger Jackie Robinson, be prepared for a sanitized version of his life and racism in America, writes Grantland‘s Wesley Morris.
42 is a Hollywood movie about American racism in which the objects of that racism must summon their most noble selves. [Screenwriter and director] Helgeland, who’s white, doesn’t imagine how it must have felt being slurred as relentlessly as Robinson was. So Robinson serves as a lesson not in triumph, but in tolerance. This is the sort of movie in which Jackie and Rachel Robinson (Nicole Beharie) don’t have to change. White America does. That’s great for messaging, but hell on drama.
All the changing here happens to the players and the management of the Dodgers organization. Helgeland skillfully writes around the problem of how white racism affects non-racist whites. And he’s a smart, sensitive-enough writer to make this an interesting, worthy emotional pursuit. The players draft an anti-Robinson petition not long after his arrival, and one by one find themselves changing their minds. Robinson was never a problem for Pee Wee Reese, whom Lucas Black plays, but when the Dodgers wind up in Cincinnati, he shows Rickey a threatening letter someone wrote him and worries that his relatives in Kentucky will go bananas. Then Rickey shows Reese the pounds of hate mail that Robinson gets, Reese goes out on the field, puts his arm around his teammate, and lets the crowd savor the image. Having an actor play Robinson makes sense for realism, but most of the time a piece of cardboard with Robinson’s likeness would have done the trick.
Read Wesley Morris’ entire piece at Grantland.
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