Review of '42': Classic tale on screen

At one point in "42," the Jackie Robinson Story, Branch Rickey, played by Harrison Ford, thanks a young Robinson for helping him love baseball again.

The latest cinematic account of Robinson's historic 1947 season, in which he breaks baseball's color barrier excluding black players, while also managing to earn Rookie of the Year recognition, likely won't make the casual baseball observer love the game. But it could help the fledgling fan, as well as the grizzled veteran, garner an appreciation for perhaps the most important accomplishment the game has produced in its storied history.

The movie, which serves as an entertaining history lesson, to be sure, is also a polished production that achieves the rarest movie-making feat — to create credible baseball action scenes.

Retold are the watershed events of that season, in which Robinson, played by Chadwick Boseman, battles overt and more subtle racism from opponents, fans, umpires and even teammates. He also battles inner demons he had promised Rickey he would successfully suppress.

It is Ford's performance beneath the bushy eyebrows and billowing cigar smoke of Rickey, the former Brooklyn Dodgers president and general manager, that most enlivens this version, written and directed by Brian Helgeland.

It is through the vision of Rickey, who as an executive with the Pittsburgh Pirates made Roberto Clemente the first Latin-American draft pick, that the baseball universe is pointed toward today's ultimate diversity.

Boseman's performance infuses the explosiveness that simmered beneath Robinson's competitive drive and also projects enough athleticism to make good on Rickey's insistence that Robinson run the bases "like the devil himself."

Robinson, a Hall of Famer whose number 42 was retired by every Major League Baseball franchise in 1997 on the 50th anniversary of his debut, is a seminal figure in the game. Thus, this film, which opened in wide release Friday, should be reintroduced to any generation to which his story is old news.

In addition, the use of computer-generated imagery helps bring some ballparks of the 1950s, including Brooklyn's Ebbets Field, to life as graphically as the players' antiquated wool uniforms.

Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5

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