Of all the life story’s worthy of a major Hollywood motion picture treatment, the story of Baseball legend Jackie Robinson seemed like a no-brainer as a biopic. Robinson, the first African American to play in Major League Baseball, is rightfully perceived as an American hero. Not only for his prowess on the Baseball diamond, but also for his important contribution to the equal rights cause in America. In the face of unprecedented adversity and racial hatred, Robinson demonstrated extreme class and dignity as he crashed through the color line in professional sports.
The only shocking thing about a Hollywood movie adaptation on Jackie Robinson’s life is that it took this long for it to be made.
Robinson is so revered in Baseball and American sports his number 42 is the only retired number across all teams in all of Major League Baseball. (With the exception of the Yankees Mariano Rivera, who wears the number as a tribute to Jackie Robinson.) The fault however, doesn’t lie with the studio system. Spike Lee has tried to make a film about Jackie Robinson’s life for over a decade, with Denzel Washington attached in the title role. But the widow of Jackie Robinson, Rachel Robinson, was unwilling or uncomfortable with granting the rights to make an authorized movie adaption of his husband’s life. Finally after all these years, this April, we’ll get to see an authorized film on his life.
The director of the film is Brian Helgeland, the writer of such hit films as L.A. Confidential , Mystic River and A Knight’s Tale. It’s a bit curious that Rachel Robinson felt more comfortable releasing the rights to his husbands life to a director like Brian Helgeland, over someone who’s as respected in the African American community as Spike Lee. Make no mistake, Helgeland is clearly capable. He’s an Academy Award winning screenwriter. But I can see critics pointing out that Helgeland doesn’t come from the same perspective as an African American’s voice.
According to Legendary Pictures’ Thomas Tull “She (Rachel Robinson) looked at our body of work and ultimately, thankfully, decided to share his story with us. It was clear to her this project was extraordinarily important to us, and Brian Helgeland did a great job making Mrs. Robinson comfortable.”
Judging from the trailer the film almost has a romantic / nostalgic, folk tale feel, with epic slow motion shots, iconic historic recreations and soft lighting. It also seems to focus more on his exploits on the field with his relationship with Branch Rickey than his work off it after his career. I’m curious to see how some of the more grittier aspects of Jackie Robinson’s racial struggles will be explored.
The most surprising thing about the trailer, however is the performance of Harrison Ford. Ford, who’s not exactly known for his abilities to disappear into a character is nearly unrecognizable as Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey. From what I can see, it looks to be a pretty accurate portrayal as well. Another surprise is the use of Jay-Z’s music in the trailer. It is both jarring and enthralling to see against the backdrop of Robinson’s story. I’m curious to see if Helgeland will incorporate modern music and elements into the final film.
The big question for the film is whether this version is worthy of Awards consideration. Which a story like Jackie Robinson’s life should be. Or is it simply a nostalgic summer sports movie?
42 stars Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Christopher Meloni, Ryan Merriman, Brad Beyer, Judy Tylor, Jon Bernthal Nicole Beharie and T.R. Knight. The film is written and directed by Brian Helgeland. It is scheduled for release April 12, 2013.
Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures are teaming up with director Brian Helgeland for “42,” the powerful story of Jackie Robinson, the legendary baseball player who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier when he joined the roster of the Brooklyn Dodgers. “42” will star Academy Award(R) nominee Harrison Ford (“Witness”) as the innovative Dodger’s general manager Branch Rickey, the MLB executive who first signed Robinson to the minors and then helped to bring him up to the show, and Chadwick Boseman (“The Express”) as Robinson, the heroic African American who was the first man to break the color line in the big leagues.