When they first announced this film was being made, I thought “About damn time”. I honestly can’t determine why it’s taken this long to make a Jackie Robinson biopic, seeing as he is one of the biggest figures of Racial Equality in not only just Baseball, but all Sports and America as well. To put it lightly I had very high expectations for this movie, as any movie about this man has to be really great in order to live up to his legacy.
The wait was worth it.
Brian Helgeland writes and directs this admirable tribute to Jackie. He traces his legacy from when Jackie was first discovered by Branch Rickey, the General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, while playing in the Negro Leagues to his historic rookie year as the first African American player in Major League Baseball.
It was a smart move on the filmmakers parts to cast an unknown to play Jackie Robinson. Their unknown man is Chadwick Boseman, and he does a grand portrayal of Jackie. The fact we don’t have any preconceptions about this actor really allows us to get absorbed in the film. Boseman is great at balancing all the emotions going through Jackie as he struggles against constant opposition from society. Harrison Ford plays the enigmatic Branch Rickey, and I think he portrayed him quite well. He’s garnered a fair amount of criticism for seemingly hamming up his performance and over-acting, but I disagree. Because not only was Branch Rickey really like that, it’s also great to see Ford really give a performance his all like this, as it feels he hasn’t put forth that effort in quite a while. The rest of the Supporting Cast is admirable as well, Nicole Beharie playing Jackie’s wife, who stands by his side through the thick and thin. Christopher Meloni does an accurate portrayal of Leo Durocher, the sleazy manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Even Lucas Black reminds us he can act in his portrayal of Pee Wee Reese, one of the most historic Dodger players. John C. McGinley provides a loving portrayal of famed Dodger broadcaster Red Barber, a true treat for fans of Baseball yesteryear. Even Alan Tudyk shows up to give a great performance as Ben Chapman, the exceedingly terrible racist Manager of the Phillies.
I was really glad they showed how much others were put out on the line for supporting Jackie. Branch Rickey and Pee Wee Reese were true heros as well for their roles in the introduction of Jackie Robinson into the Dodgers. They were both from the south, but they both understood that Baseball needed to be desegregated. They both risked a lot when they came out in full support of Jackie, especially Branch Rickey. He took a risk no other GM in Baseball was willing to do at that time, and stood to lose the most from it. This film did a great job in showing this, and they also didn’t overplay his benevolence, which was an accurate portrayal move, including that he was a businessman, and saw that a lot of money could be made from having more African-American attendance at his games.
The reconstruction of Ebbets Field was awe-striking to look at, and the filmmakers took a great amount of care and detail to bring this period to life. Right down to the uniforms, the gloves, the bases, and even right down to Jackie Robinson’s swing.
Some may criticize the film for focusing greatly on highlights from his rookie season(him hitting homeruns, stealing bases), but I think Jackie Robinson deserves it. He was a true athlete, and was absolutely incredible to watch. Had he not been as dynamic a player as he was, history certainly would not be the same today. His legacy deserves every ounce of glory, and the film is a true crowd-pleaser. The audience in the theater I attended was clapping and cheering as if they were in the stands at a baseball game, and at the end, everyone applauded. You don’t often see that in a Sunday matinee showing of ANY movie. This movie is a heroic tribute to Jackie Robinson, and it lives up to his legacy.