Each week, the Reel Dad checks the nutritional value of a movie — new or classic — to help you choose what to watch. This week’s pick is a new drama about baseball legend Jackie Robinson, 42.
The movie 42 is like the man it honors, Jackie Robinson. The film reaches beyond how things look to explore how people think, addresses fundamental questions of tolerance and respect, and honors people who stand up for what they believe. And it dares to use all the traditions we expect in a baseball movie to recreate one of the sport’s least-expected chapters.
As the prologue describes, America is a country in love with baseball after World War II. For fans, this is a golden age of afternoon games, intimate parks and iconic players. For a nation reuniting after the turbulence of war, baseball gives people something to cheer about.
But celebrating the sport isn’t enough to move it forward. When baseball executive Branch Rickey signs Jackie Robinson to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers, he breaks the tradition to exclude African American players from the game. Rickey is a shrewd businessman; he believes Robinson can sell tickets and propel the Dodgers to victory. He also demonstrates a social conscience that defies the narrow thinking of his time. While some may not be ready for Rickey’s daring step, he knows what he does for baseball will be good for the country.
On film, 42 — named for the number on Robinson’s jersey — is the story of two men who work together to change a world. This is not a bio pic. While we see glimpses into Robinson’s personal life, we primarily observe him on the field and in the locker room. We explore how Rickey and Robinson — from different worlds — join to teach a sport and a nation what people can accomplish when they treat each other with respect.
If you like baseball movies, you will be right at home. From the opening moments, the film looks and feels like a baseball picture, from its sweeping shots of stadiums to the period production design and the soaring music. But writer/director Brian Helgeland is too smart to let the aesthetic dictate the content. While he may give us what we visually expect, he challenges us with what the film says. He doesn’t try to make Robinson a hero; he portrays the athlete as a man who recognizes the potential of restraint. Just as Robinson stops himself from overreacting, Helgeland refrains from letting any moments get too big. While the look of the picture makes us comfortable, its content makes us think.
Harrison Ford turns Branch Rickey into a fully dimensional character who knows he can change the world one baseball at a time. Physically, Ford reaches for a different look than in recent appearances; creatively, he digs beneath the surface to make Rickey authentic. Ford invests the part with a determination we haven’t seen from him in years. As Robinson, Chadwick Boseman realistically conveys the athlete’s struggle as he carefully avoids making Robinson too turbulent a character.
42 reminds us how much we accomplish as a nation and how much work lies ahead. While these specific racial issues may not occur as often as they did in the 1940s, we still live in a nation where fear drives too much behavior. Because of Jackie Robinson, a sport redefined the respect that people deserve. It’s time for our country, as we look back at this chapter, to look ahead with conviction to welcome those who may differ from what looks right on the surface.
Film Nutritional Value
* Content: High. 42 recreates a chapter in American history that teaches us important lessons about how people should treat each other.
* Entertainment: High. Writer/director Brian Helgeland wisely makes the film look and feel like the baseball movies we expect, to frame the messages we should consider.
* Message: High. The film challenges us to look at ourselves, the behaviors we may need to address, and the impact of our actions we need to remember.
* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to consider these issues, as important today as then, is worth a family’s time at the theater.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film, talk with your children about the obstacles people face today.
42 is Rated PG-13 for “thematic elements including language.” It runs 128 minutes.
4-1/2 Popcorn Buckets
The Movie Menu
What’s on your family’s movie menu this week?
Choosing what films to offer is a lot like planning what meals to serve. And all the choices on television make it easy to savor something at the same time you nourish the mind and heart.
This week, cable offers a range of nutritious movies. Here are a few choices.
Few movie genres are as reliable as the baseball movie. We know, from the first moment of the first pan across the field, that the love of the game is something special in Hollywood. Few baseball films serve the clichés with as much relish as The Natural showing at 8 p.m., Friday, April 19, on Sundance. This favorite from 1984 stars Robert Redford as a batter with a past who tries to confront the challenges of the past before rounding the bases for the final time. With great supporting work from Robert Duvall, Glenn Close and Kim Basinger, the film may not be the most logical baseball film ever made, but it certainly ranks as one of the most entertaining. And the finale is sure to generate chills.
As an actor, Kevin Costner has had good experiences on the baseball field, delivering strong performances in Bull Durham and Field of Dreams. When his career slowed in the late 1990s, he returned to the ballpark as a legend trying to experience one final inning in For Love of the Game. While the plot is as predictable as the taste of sauerkraut on a hot dog, Costner makes it all seem fresh in a performance that works despite the sentimental material. Few actors express so much with a glance as Costner when his character observes the symbols of the sport he loves. With Kelly Preston and John C. Reilly, this film airs on Flix at 5:30 p.m, Saturday, April 20.
Robert Redford’s calm as an actor reaches behind the screen any time he directs stories with sensitive relationships. His work in A River Runs Through It, from 1992, reveals a director who refuses to fear what the camera may find when it looks inside what families hide. Brad Pitt stuns as a rebellious young man with a not-so-secret desire to destroy his life. Standing by, trying to help, are members of his family offering the unconditional support anyone would seek. But it’s never easy to help those who don’t want to help themselves. With Tom Skerritt, Craig Sheffer and Brenda Blethyn, and the lovely scenery of Montana, the film shows on Sundance at 10 p.m. Saturday.
Some year, Brad Pitt will get his role to secure the awards he seems destined to receive. That could have happened with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button had the movie been fully appreciated beyond its special effects. Pitt snagged an Oscar nomination for playing a man who physically ages in reverse, a condition that gives him a unique view of the world. While the fantasy elements of this 2008 film are impossible to miss, Pitt’s subtle work as a man caught in a bizarre spiral reveals what a nuanced actor he can be. Check this out at 8 p.m., Friday, on FMC.
Serving nutritious movies can be as easy as turning on the television. And be sure, as you watch together, to share what you observe, question and consider. Watching movies together can prompt valuable family discussions.