It’s really rather stunning to me that there hasn’t been a biopic of Jackie Robinson since 1950’s earnest The Jackie Robinson Story that starred the barrier-breaking baseball player as himself.
Spike Lee, reportedly, pursued the subject for many years, but never got the funding.
That’s a shame, because Lee would’ve definitely made a better film— one with more grit, depth, and ambiguity. But he couldn’t have made a more crowd-pleasing one. 42 tells an important story—a story that needs to be shared with a new generation—in a slick, highly entertaining way. As directed by Brian Helgeland, it’s a nifty piece of old-fashioned American mythmaking.
Robinson, just in case you didn’t know, was the first baseball player to crossover from the Negro League to the majors, at a time when Jim Crow was the law of the land in the south. (His jersey number, now retired in all of baseball, was 42.) He played for the Brooklyn Dodgers and he was great—more importantly, he was tough and virtually unflappable. All the taunts and abuse just made him a better ballplayer.
Newcomer Chadwick Boseman plays Robinson with a pleasingly cocksure physical presence (he couldn’t talk back to racist...