And Change America
This inspiring biopic tells the story of Jackie Robinson, the first black athlete to play on a major-league baseball team, the Brooklyn Dodgers. This film boldly reveals the power of change against all odds with one man’s ability to crack a baseball bat and steal home.
4 Stars: Perfect for sports fans
Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) owns the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1940’s New York. Like a soothsayer, he has a vision of the sports' future and it includes adding black athletes. Easier said than done, however, in pre-civil rights movement America. In the '40s, the South was still segregated with whites-only bathrooms and drinking fountains, not to mention that former slaves and slave owners were still among the living.
Rickey’s scouts find Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), a black athlete rising as a shortstop in the Negro Leagues. Rickey makes Robinson an offer to start playing in his minor-league team in Montreal with the aim of getting him to Brooklyn, if Robinson can stomach the racist bullying.
Rickey tells Robinson it’s going to be hellish but Robinson must have the courage not to fight back, otherwise critics will pounce on him for being violent and out of control. Robinson finally makes it to the Dodgers and the overt racism nearly breaks his spirit. Even his own teammates sign a petition to remove Robinson, but Rickey refuses to cave.
In one scene, Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) spews racial vitriol at Robinson, using the n-word over and over. As much as Robinson wants to clobber the man, he knows the only thing he can do is beat him at his own game — and he does.
Chadwick Boseman is fantastic as Robinson, capturing his base-stealing moves with the intensity of a threatened spider about to attack. Harrison Ford plays Rickey as a forward-thinking Methodist who wants to do right by his lord and shepherd in the social changes he knows are long overdue.
Bottom line: This movie is incredibly inspiring, even 60 years after the fact. My only wish is that the script would have allowed a less-perfect portrait of Jackie Robinson to show more of the personal toll that this challenge must have taken. Either way, both he and Branch Rickey were true American heroes.
Photo credits: Legendary Pictures