Film Review: 42

Reviewed by Sam Robinson

Rated PG. Starring Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford. Available now on DVD & Blu-Ray.

[Stars: 3.5/5]

How do you react under pressure?

That’s the question on show in the biographical film 42.

It’s a film all about Jackie Robinson, a baseball star in the late 1940s. Most notably however, Jackie was the first African-American baseball player to break the sport’s colour barrier to play in Major League Baseball.

42 chronicles the time from his recruitment to rising stardom as part of the Boston Dodgers (and gaining the jersey with the number 42, in case you were wondering). While you might expect this to be a film about baseball, it’s much more about racism and breaking down barriers.

Watching a film like this now – it’s incredulous that such division and racism was around less than 100 years ago. The film portrays public toilets divided between white and black; seating at sport stadiums is also split; and it’s all well and good for racial slurs to be screamed across a field by an opposing team’s manager.

Just as recent films like The Sapphires and Django Unchained have reminded us, our world has a hard history of racism behind us, with effects still felt today. I’m really glad that this story has been turned into a screenplay, and an effective one at that. The film isn’t flawless – there are holes in the script and it takes 75 minutes before Robinson is revealed as imperfect – but this story is the catalyst for a social change in one of America’s biggest sports, and is still celebrated today.

Robinson is recruited by Branch Rickey (Ford), a God-fearing man seeking social change in baseball. He acknowledges Robinson as a fellow methodist and takes on a mentor role. Just after Rickey signs Robinson, he warns ‘Like our Saviour, you gotta have the guts to turn the other cheek’.

This line rings true through the rest of the film. Robinson is heckled for being black, receives death threats, and is treated like an animal – and how he responds is on show. Will he imitate his Saviour, or snap and punch someone? 1 Peter 2:20-23 tells us exactly how his Saviour Jesus reacted:

But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

The immediate context of this passage is addressing slaves, but it shows us who we should be imitating, no matter what we’re going through.

For Robinson, he is called the most horrible of words and it takes everything he has to take on Rickey’s advice to imitate his Saviour. It’s a challenge for us too – when we suffer insults for being a Christian, how do we respond? Do we fight back with equally harsh words, or respond with grace while entrusting ourselves to him who judges justly?

42 is an uplifting story that I reckon you should check out. I’m giving it three-and-a-half out of five stars.

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