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Sunday, May 12, 2013

42 Defines Courage and Entertains


Mike Nettleton



Many people equate courage with violence. Certainly brave soldiers who face danger on the battlefield or police officers who pursue bad guys with deadly weapons and keep them from causing harm to other human beings deserve the label “courageous.”
But there are many shades of courage. As the film 42 demonstrates, sometimes courage involves not acting, not lashing out at those of small, cruel minds, not defending yourself against verbal, psychological and even physical abuse. Such was the courage of an African-American athlete named Jackie Robinson.
 


We’ve known the story forever, of course. It’s taught in high school history classes now. We read that Jackie Robinson, a three-sport star at UCLA was picked by Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey to break the color barrier-that he was showered with racial epithets and faced discrimination and thousands of threats. We were taught that finally, his talent, determination and charisma helped the next generation of African-American players fully integrate baseball. What 42 does is bring the emotional toll Jackie Robinson submerged just to survive, up to the surface, where we can experience it with him.
 
Make no mistake about it, 42 depicts post-war America at it’s very ugliest, and, in some ways, most noble. You find yourself repulsed by the raw bigotry Robinson endured on a daily basis, yet uplifted by his struggle to maintain control, to prove himself a more evolved human being than his tormentors.

 

42 may be my movie-of-the year, pending whatever else comes along. Not only will it entertain you, but it provides a perspective on how far we’ve come and how far we have left to travel in our quest to judge our fellow human beings by their character and actions and not by some superficial factor like skin color, political affiliation or sexuality.
 
One of the points the movie makes so well is that attitudes and prejudices are learned behaviors—passed from father and mother to son and daughter. I hope families will see this film together and use it as a jumping off point for a conversation about compassion and understanding.
 
The visual details created by the filmmakers are striking, including a CGI generated version of historic Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. The acting crackles with energy, with Chadwick Boseman as the enigmatic Robinson, Nicole Beharie as his equally courageous wife Rachel and Harrison Ford, exhibiting impressive character-acting chops as Branch Rickey. Also outstanding are Christopher Meloni as Leo Durocher and Lucas Black as Pee Wee Reese. A personal side note; I loves seeing Max Gail, of Barney Miller fame in a short turn as Burt Wooton, the fill-in Dodger manager for Jackie’s first season.
 
As a certified clumsy person I’d like to offer all five of my thumbs way-up for 42.

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