YOU HAVE TO BE in your seventies to remember a time before Major League Baseball was racially integrated. Pro football broke the color barrier in 1946, and the NBA would follow suit in 1950. But it is Jackie Robinson, playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, who is widely seen as the trailblazer, perhaps because of his excellence, his grace under fire, or because he helped lift a heavy veil of ignorance over America’s national pastime. Or perhaps all of the above.
Robinson’s story has been told before — once even starring the man himself — and the productions ache with earnestness and dignity, but they all pale in comparison to the story they try to embody. In 42, Jackie is portrayed by Chadwick Boseman, who does a fine job, even if the baseball scenes are lousy.
In fact, there’s nothing terribly enthralling about the film if you know an ounce of the story, save for a strange and at times really interesting portrayal by Harrison Ford of Dodgers owner Branch Rickey, the man who signed Robinson (and also created the modern farm system of minor league teams).
You don’t usually go a-courtin’ Han Solo these days if you want a good — and preferably wide awake — performance, but the role likely means a great deal to Ford, and he brings some dry humor and humanity to the part.
It’s more or less just a turnstile of a feel-good sports picture, but the real function of 42 is societal. There are whispers about gay NFL players coming out, after years of arguments that echo the bigotry in this movie. Maybe that’ll happen this year. Maybe it takes two or three more. But it’s an inevitability, and just like Jackie Robinson enduring all the insults and threats on his way through the color barrier, it’ll be worth the struggle. Because in the end, all that matters is whether you can play the game.