(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was a poem about the opening scene of a movie about my life. With this film about a scriptwriter in mind, I decided to get a bit meta.)
We open with a panning shot That swings from a suburban street And slowly lifts and nears a house With bushes bloomed in April heat.
A window’s lit, and through its pane We see a young man deep in thought, Studying his laptop screen, Unsure if he should type or not.
He reads the fourteenth prompt again, And shifts upon the seat below him. Then, he cracks a knowing grin And swiftly rattles off this poem. ___________________________
MPA rating: R (solely for some language, a fairly light R)
The name Herman Mankiewicz may not mean much to non-cinephiles, but he’s still held in high esteem for his Oscar-winning screenplay for Citizen Kane, sharing credit with Orson Welles, much to the chagrin of Welles’ ego. David Fincher’s treatment of Mank, as his friends called him, is an undeniable labor of love, with a screenplay written by Fincher’s father Jack prior to his 2003 death and delayed over the next two decades. On top of that, the black-and-white cinematography and sound were painstakingly designed to mimic the style of old Hollywood, though the level of that detail is more appreciated by film historians than average viewers.
Oscar nominee Gary Oldman brings Mank to life as a washed-up genius too witty and fond of alcohol for his own good, Whether he’s dictating the Citizen Kane script while recuperating from a broken leg in his desert hideaway or schmoozing with Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard), William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), and Marion Davies (Oscar-nominated Amanda Seyfried) ten years earlier, Oldman is brilliant as ever at portraying afflicted brilliance, while the rest of the cast is strong but somewhat forgettable compared to him.
Despite Oldman’s ever award-worthy presence, the true star is the script, which bears an old-timey eloquence that is uncommon these days, the kind that trusts in the intelligence of the audience to appreciate its wit. With such a reliance on dialogue, the film can get dry at times, but it also elucidates interesting details of Mank’s story, such as his assistance of Jews escaping Nazi Germany and how he changed his mind about receiving credit for the Citizen Kane script. From what I understand, the history is embellished to give Mank a greater claim to Citizen Kane’s brilliance than Orson Welles, but, taken with a grain of salt, it’s still an impressively crafted vision of classic Hollywood through the bleary eyes of one of its great writers.
Best line: (Louis B. Mayer) “This is a business where the buyer gets nothing for his money but a memory. What he bought still belongs to the man who sold it. That’s the real magic of the movies. And don’t let anybody tell you different.”
Let history judge me for what I have done. Let God alone bless or condemn. Was I one who lived by the plow or the gun? Was I part of us or of them?
Don’t ask me my politics, views, or beliefs. Don’t paint me in black or in white. Don’t ask if I’m proud for another man’s griefs. Don’t classify me wrong or right.
I did what I did, though I still question how. Was I more a tool or a sinner? Perhaps I indeed am less holy than thou, But no one can claim to be winner. _______________________
MPA rating: R (for some gun violence and frequent profanity)
While everyone else is focusing on this year’s fast-approaching Oscar ceremony, I’m a bit embarrassed that I haven’t reviewed a single one of last year’s Best Picture nominees. While I’ve liked all of the ones I’ve seen, the one that most surprised me was Judas and the Black Messiah, a hard-hitting biopic of both Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and the man who betrayed him to the FBI.
The Black Panthers are a group that is hard to label definitively, but owing to my schooling, I always viewed them as little more than a terrorist group, born of the same righteous indignation at prejudice as Martin Luther King, Jr., but choosing the path of violence instead. FBI Special Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) voices a similar rationale, comparing the Panthers to the KKK as he tries to convince undercover informant Bill O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) to continue his infiltration of the Black Panthers, led in Chicago by the fiery Fred Hampton (Oscar winner Daniel Kaluuya). Even after the film, I still think Mitchell had a point, but that doesn’t mean the government opposing the Panthers was any more in the right. It’s so easy to paint the conflicts of history in broad strokes of simple heroics and villainy when the truth is much more complex.
While Judas and the Black Messiah does its job in exploring a piece of American history I never knew, it goes above and beyond in presenting this tragic, difficult story with impressive nuance. In his impassioned speeches, Kaluuya’s Hampton extols action and revolution with persuasive zeal but loses me when he gets to killing “pigs.” Based on that, it’s no wonder he was labeled a threat, yet he later balks when O’Neal presents a plan to blow up city hall, trying to catch Hampton in the act of violence. The FBI’s narrative of Hampton as a danger couldn’t reconcile facts like how the Black Panthers fed daily breakfast to the black children of Chicago or how his Rainbow Coalition united disparate gangs and organizations in cooperation, even one sporting a Confederate flag. These were just lumped into his reputation of subversion, with no consideration of their positive impacts. My political opinions are a far cry from Hampton’s anti-capitalist philosophy, but I can certainly recognize that the government’s response to such revolutionaries only served to justify their grievances.
And the film doesn’t shy away from this dichotomy of good and evil actions. In a series of back-and-forth acts of violence, one Panthers member is shown killing a cop in cold blood before being killed himself. Yet soon after, Hampton speaks with the killer’s mother, who bemoans that her dear son, a well-behaved seven-year-old in her memory, will only be remembered by society as a murderer. “He did that. He did that,” she says, “but that ain’t all he did.” Paired with that violent scene is one of my new favorite scenes of poetry in film, wherein Hampton’s pregnant girlfriend Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback, who deserved an Oscar nom herself) reads her own verses to him, expressing the apprehension of bringing a new life into such a dangerous, conflicted world.
With such a nuanced screenplay, the acting had to be on point, and indeed it is. Kaluuya and Stanfield especially act the heck out of their respective roles, bringing to life Hampton’s intensity and O’Neal’s desperate uncertainty. I can understand Kaluuya winning out, since they were both nominated for Best Supporting Actor, but I probably would have preferred Stanfield, even if he is the “bad guy” of the story.
As he helps and gets to know Hampton and the Panthers, O’Neal clearly sympathizes at times but is too easily manipulated by self-interest to take the stand others around him do, preferring to do as he’s told rather than figure out what’s right for himself. The Biblical title is actually quite fitting, with the FBI standing in for the Pharisees wanting a concerning upstart out of the picture and using a weak-willed follower to make it happen, complete with further parallels.
As with so many Oscar-caliber films with that overly common R rating, the frequent profanity is the worst part of the movie for me. It might add authenticity and no one else may share this peeve of mine, but I still insist that the film would be better and more watchable without all the obscenities flying. Yet by the end, I was able to look past the language and the apparent political and racial divide between me and the film’s subject and recognize that Judas and the Black Messiah is a great film, with outstanding actors bringing to light a historical tragedy through a personal lens, with themes of action vs passivity and how people are remembered. Nuance is sorely lacking in the world these days, just as it was back then, but it’s certainly welcome when looking back at the past.
Best line: (Deborah, reading her poem to Fred) “We scream and we shout and we live by this anthem… But is power to the people really worth the ransom? Because that’s what a mother does – Gives the world the most precious things she loves, And I love you and I love our baby too, And there’s nothing more radical than seeing that through, Born pure to the blood, with the heart of a panther. No regrets… I know my answer.”
Would every war have been the War To End All Wars, we sigh, That dealers of demise and gore Would not be fashioned anymore From friends and fathers summoned for To fight and kill or else to die.
How many heroes, horror-hewn, Have died for lack of peace, Both peace from battles body-strewn And peace of mind, that distant boon? No haunted human is immune, From memories that never cease.
A hero may not ever meet Recipients of peace. The foolish, thoughtless, and elite Think heroism obsolete, But we will not forget their feat, For neither do our memories cease. ___________________
MPA rating: TV-14 (violence somewhere between a strong PG-13 or a light R)
Like last year with Journey’s End, it seemed like Veteran’s Day was the right time for a World War I movie. The Lost Battalion may have been a TV movie created for A&E, but it holds up with the best films about World War I. Grown-up child star Rick Schroeder plays Major Charles Whittlesey, a former New York lawyer who grudgingly follows his general’s commands and leads the Army 77th Infantry Division to take the Argonne Forest, only to be cut off from all support as they hold their ground. The true story was first told in a 1919 silent film (which is available on YouTube), but, unlike that version, the 2001 film never leaves the battlefield, showing the cost-heavy struggle in all its savagery and heroism.
It’s easy for World War I films to be boiled down to trench warfare, so grimly brought to life in films like 1917 and Journey’s End, but it was a change of pace for The Lost Battalion to leave the trenches behind and mostly take place in a forest setting. Schroeder does an excellent job as a weary commander forced by duty to lead his men into certain doom, while the rest of the cast excel at depicting the mixed ethnicities that fought alongside each other on the battlefield. The violence was stronger than I expected for a TV movie, with blood spatter that still doesn’t come close to Saving Private Ryan or Hacksaw Ridge (which also featured the 77th), but the cinematography and editing go a long way toward making the battle more chaotic and dire. The Lost Battalion is a reminder of many things – the stubborn courage of American soldiers, the bitter pill of “acceptable losses,” the military bonds that transcend racial conflict – but, as with so many war films, it makes me grateful to all who have fought for freedom.
Best line: (Major Whittlesey) “Two days ago, we had a Chinese working our field phone, an American Indian for a runner. They’re both dead, but that’s not the point. These Italian, Irish, Jews, and Poles, they’d never hire me as an attorney. We wouldn’t be seen at the same events. But we will never in our lives enjoy the company of finer soldiers or better men than we do tonight.”
(For Day 18 of NaPoWriMo, the prompt was to write a poem inspired by one of the chapter titles in Susan G. Wooldridge’s Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words, and the heading “Controlled Abandon” caught my eye, associating it with any kind of innovation or risk-taking, which can be simply unusual or truly dangerous.)
Upon the walls of cultured art, the few who make the rules Can mock the fewer down below and designate them fools. For who but madmen with abandon would attempt to flout The well-established orthodoxy, confident in clout? But down below, the darer knows what’s needed to invent, And every tiny movement made is careful with intent. The price of forging something new may well survive disdain, For “madmen” such as these know there is nothing done in vain.
Upon the walls of tyranny, the few who make the rules Can mock the vulgar down below and designate them fools. For who but madmen with abandon would resist the State, Which has the power to enforce its whims without debate? But down below, the darer knows what’s needed to dissent, And every tiny movement made is careful with intent. The price of saving someone else may well result in pain, But “madmen” such as these know there is nothing done in vain. _______________________________________
MPA rating: R (can be intense, but what is actually shown is closer to PG-13)
There are already so many films set in World War II, whether it be on the battlefield or in the Nazi-occupied cities where Jews were threatened, but they never seem to get old. Resistance may fall into the middle pack of such films, but it’s still an excellent period piece/biopic about the early life of Marcel Marceau, who went on to become the world’s most famous mime.
Jesse Eisenberg might not have been my first choice for the role, but he proves to be a compelling figure as a misunderstood artist moved to action by the plight of displaced Jewish children in France. Likewise, Clémence Poésy and Bella Ramsey deliver affecting performances as Marcel’s love interest and a girl he rescues, respectively, while Matthias Schweighöfer is a terror as notorious Nazi Klaus Barbie. The plotline is not especially original but still packs emotional power and occasional menace, and the way that Marceau’s budding talent as a mime is employed to cheer the children is well executed by Eisenberg.
Mime itself has never been of much interest to me, and the film’s final moments may be underwhelming for luddites like me, but its sincerity and historical basis are nonetheless impressive. Resistance may have underperformed due to its release at the start of the pandemic last March, but it deserves more appreciation.
(For Day 14 of NaPoWriMo, the prompt suggested a poem about the meaning of my first or last name, so I instead pivoted to delve into the meaning of a far more famous name than mine.)
Kennedy, Kennedy, That’s what they see. Not the J or the F or the R or the E. Kennedy, Kennedy, Destined for fame, Merit an afterthought next to the name.
Kennedy, Kennedy, What did you do? One minute driving, the next in the stew. Kennedy, Kennedy, Eyes everywhere, They see what they want to, one victim, one heir.
Kennedy, Kennedy, Justice is blind, But still that refrain’s at the back of its mind. Kennedy, Kennedy, Innocent guilt, Only a brick in the empire built. _______________________________
MPA rating: PG-13
Political films always have the potential to be dicey and controversial, especially when they cover recent events, but with Hollywood’s fascination with scandal of any kind, it’s surprising and perhaps telling that a film about the Chappaquiddick incident wasn’t made until 48 years later and 8 years after Ted Kennedy’s death. For those unfamiliar with the affair, Chappaquiddick is an excellent cinematic history lesson, covering the days surrounding the accident where Senator Edward Kennedy (Jason Clarke) accidentally drove his car off a Massachusetts bridge and left young staffer Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara) to drown.
There are far splashier scandals in American history, considering that this one mainly affected just two people, but the responses due to who the survivor was are both fascinating and disconcerting. Thanks to Kennedy’s family prestige, a team of damage control experts quickly swoop in to assist and cover for his obvious lapses in judgment.
Under such circumstances, it would be easy to paint Kennedy as a callous villain, but the script and Clarke’s subtle performance are not so one-sided, acknowledging the weight of his family expectations and the natural desperation of the situation without exonerating him either. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have a clear opinion of what should have happened by the end, but I found it to have a welcome balance, perhaps tempered by nearly fifty years of retrospect. Despite solid performances from Ed Helms, Jim Gaffigan, and Clancy Brown, Chappaquiddick does threaten to be dull at times, but the true story has its own built-in interest when it comes to political machinations and tragedy, making itself still relevant today.
Best line: (Ted Kennedy) “Joey, you have flaws. We all do; you said so yourself. Moses had a temper. Peter betrayed Jesus. I have Chappaquiddick.” (Joe Gargan) “Yeah. Moses had a temper. But he never left a girl at the bottom of the Red Sea.”
(For Day 10 of NaPoWriMo, the prompt suggested a “Junk Drawer Song,” but I decided on something different and went back to Day 7 to try the shadorma, a 26-syllable poem with a syllable count of 3, 5, 3, 3, 7, and 5.)
As I die, I hear the music Of living, Of loving, Of knowing what outlives me Will keep me alive. ________________________
MPA rating: Not Rated (G would work, maybe PG)
You know those musical biopics that have practically become their own genre by now? The kind where a young, naïve talent gets caught up in the thrill of success, is fooled by unscrupulous exploiters as their relationships and health deteriorate, and then ends up either reclaiming a piece of their former passion or else dying tragically? Think Coal Miner’s Daughter to Ray to Teen Spirit and beyond. Well, such films are hardly a new invention, since A Song to Remember used such a plot way back in 1945, earning itself seven Oscar nominations. This story of Polish pianist extraordinaire Fredric Chopin (Best Actor nominee Cornel Wilde) may play fast and loose with the actual history, but it’s still an elegant period piece that highlights the life and greatest works of a giant of classical music.
A child prodigy in both playing and composing, the film’s version of Chopin had his greatest advocate in his teacher Joseph Elsner, played by the endearingly gregarious Paul Muni, who is easily the best character, reminiscent of Thomas Mitchell’s Uncle Billy in It’s a Wonderful Life the next year. The pro-Poland patriotism of Chopin and Elsner comes into conflict with the high-minded George Sand, who convinces Chopin to focus on composing to the exclusion of all else. Sand’s characterization is one of the film’s larger changes to history, since she was an advocate for Poland as well, and Ayn Rand notably objected to her being painted as a villain. Still, I thought the treatment of the conflict was relatively balanced, certainly leaning toward Elsner being in the right overall, but Sand makes some good points along the way that are never really refuted. For any lover of classical music unfamiliar with it, A Song to Remember is an underrated classic waiting to be discovered, even if it follows story beats that have only gotten more familiar with repetition.
Best line: (George Sand) “Are you satisfied, monsieur? Do you know anything that could replace a life as great as his?” (Elsner) “Yes. The spirit that he leaves behind in a million hearts, madam.”
(For Day 8 of NaPoWriMo, the prompt suggested writing a monologue from a dead person’s perspective, in the style of the Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters. I chose Vincent van Gogh.)
I painted what I saw, which is somehow not what others saw, Though they recognized its canvas version. The colors mattered more than details, For the colors are the details in my mind, Glazed over every surface and landscape And fired in my mind’s kiln to a minor masterpiece, If only everyone could share my eye. They said I had my demons, but I had angels too, Perched on each shoulder, left and right. With my one good ear, I like to think The worse of the two had trouble being heard. But hearing is overrated while sight And hue can bewitch so splendidly. _____________________________
The only Oscar attention given to 2018’s At Eternity’s Gate may have been a Best Actor nod for Willem Dafoe, but his performance really is the film’s greatest strength. As misunderstood painter Vincent van Gogh, Dafoe proves to be a mercurial presence, given to bouts of obsession and anger while treasuring art above all. His relationship with fellow artist Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac) seems to be a friendly outlet, but the Dutchman’s apparent mental struggles only get worse in the last years of his life.
I can’t fault the acting, but director Julian Schnabel of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly makes a few jarring creative choices with his direction and editing, which highlights the otherness of van Gogh’s perceptions but also comes off as overly artsy and surreal. Still, I wasn’t familiar with many of the details of van Gogh’s life, and my subsequent research made me recognize the many references to his most famous works throughout the film, heightening my appreciation of it. At Eternity’s Gate is a contemplative showcase of Dafoe’s talent portraying a tortured genius, and its final moments are especially evocative in representing the precious but overlooked.
Best line: (van Gogh) “Maybe God made me a painter for people who aren’t born yet. It is said, ‘Life is for sowing. The harvest is not here.’”
(For Day 2 of NaPoWriMo, the prompt was to reflect on a life-changing choice, so I considered the life-and-death stand of a German martyr.)
I simply stayed silent, Not hateful nor loud. I kept my mouth closed When they wanted compliance. To not join the violent, Not follow the crowd, To leave them opposed Was inherent defiance.
I wonder about, If I’d merely caved, How easier life Would have treated this fool. But then I have doubt: I might have been saved From present-day strife, But not God’s higher rule. ________________________
MPA rating: PG-13
On this Good Friday, a film about martyrdom seemed apropos. I’ll admit that I’ve never seen a Terrence Malick film (potential future Blindspot picks), so there is nothing to which I can compare A Hidden Life from the same director. Yet it most reminded me of Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, since both are moving portraits of faith in the face of evil and social pressure. However, whereas Sophie Scholl was actively opposing the Nazis, the subject of A Hidden Life simply refused to yield to their demands, proving to be a timely hero in this age where even mild disagreement can spark undue censure.
Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), declared a Blessed by the Catholic Church in 2007, is a poor farmer in the mountains of Austria, faced with a choice when Hitler annexes his country in the Anschluss. Required to take an oath of allegiance to the Fuhrer, Jägerstätter balks, despite overwhelming pressure from his village and even his church to comply. His quiet steadfastness as he nears the inevitable end recalls the passion of Christ as he and his wife (Valerie Pachner) question the morality of a stand that none but God would remember, or so they thought.
Malick’s celebrated visual artistry elevates the poignant story even more with absolutely gorgeous cinematography that takes full advantage of the alpine setting. Almost every shot could be framed on my wall as a piece of art, which makes it criminal that the film didn’t get a single Oscar nomination. While I loved so much about the film, its epic length is sadly a big detriment, the pace slow and methodical across nearly three hours. It’s a spiritually rich, contemplative film that heightens its emotions as it progresses, but I was quite ready for it to be over when the credits rolled. A Hidden Life is a superb masterpiece of the human conscience; it just could have benefited from a little more editing.
Best line: (Franz’s father-in-law) “Better to suffer injustice than to do it.”
(I wrote this in the style of Robert Service, one of my favorite poets, who wrote several poems inspired by his time as an ambulance driver in World War I.)
There’s a time in the life of a soldier entrenched When he cannot endure anymore, When his teeth are like glass having been so long clenched And he’s numb to the screams and the gore,
When his mind barely registers pleasure or pain And his nerve’s on the edge of a knife, When his soul is unlikely to wash out the stain Of the ongoing ending of life,
When the order to “Go” couldn’t move his clay feet Even if he had will to obey, When war seems no more than the grinding of meat For some heinous, infernal buffet.
At times such as these, when one’s mettle and wits Have been wrung further than they extend, The heroes decide alongside hypocrites How they choose to meet their journey’s end. _________________________________
MPA rating: R (I consider it a light R, for a few violent moments and occasional F words)
Though it may seem I’m destined to only post on holidays, I am trying to get to a more consistent schedule. It seemed only fitting to review a war movie on Veteran’s Day, and a World War I movie seemed even more fitting, considering the significance of November 11, when the armistice ending that terrible war was signed. Journey’s End brings the desperation of that war to life in a wholly compelling way, making it a must-watch for anyone interested in WWI.
Based on a 1928 play by war veteran R. C. Sherriff, which has already been adapted four other times, Journey’s End doesn’t try to provide a sweeping look at the whole war, instead focusing on a single week in March of 1918, as British troops braced themselves for an expected German offensive. Fresh-faced 2nd Lieutenant Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) asks to be assigned to Company C, commanded by his former school friend Captain Stanhope (a tortured Sam Claflin). He finds his old pal changed by the horrors of war, and his initial opinion of a war raid as “exciting” is quickly sobered by experiencing them firsthand.
What Journey’s End does best is capture snapshots of the feeling of trench warfare, albeit mainly from an officer’s perspective. We feel the tension of soldiers wishing something would happen, followed by the grim resignment of being chosen for that something; the seeming indifference of superior officers; the conflict of different coping mechanisms; the helplessness of men at the end of their own rope having to comfort others at the end of theirs; and the mental anguish of wishing someone both “goodbye” and “good luck,” possibly for the last time. Plenty of small details add to the realism, such as the men getting a dose of rum and emptying their bladders before going “over the top.”
The obvious comparison for me in appraising a WWI movie is judging it next to last year’s 1917, and, while Journey’s End can’t quite compare on technical proficiency, it surpasses the newer film in characterization, with Paul Bettany’s personable second-in-command being a particular light among the dull grays of the trenches. In addition to the acting, the cinematography is also excellent, though, with a few comparatively short tracking shots bringing 1917 to mind. War films can be hard to sit through, but those like Journey’s End are a constant reminder of how lucky we are to be able to sit around on couches watching movies when we could just as easily have been down to our last nerve in muddy trenches, but for the distance of 100 years. To all veterans, thank you!
Best line: (Bettany’s Lieutenant Osborne, writing home) “There is a job to be done. It ought never to have arisen, but that is not the point. I have had so very much out of life, but all these youngsters do not realize how unlucky they are, so new are they to their very existence.”
Hate has a sound, neither quiet nor calm. It’s harsh as a screaming match, loud as a bomb. It hides where it can, but when called to resist, It bursts on the scene, and it cannot be missed.
By fruits, you shall know it, by fire and fear, By people too busy condemning to hear, By pointing of fingers and counting of sins, And seeing, not people, but labels and skins.
But how does one fight it? More fire and fear? More yelling in hopes that bystanders will hear? No mind has been changed meeting rancor with wrath, But by the more difficult, opposite path. _______________________
MPA rating: PG-13 (mainly for multiple racial slurs and a few profanities)
Like so many others, I was heartbroken at the news of Chadwick Boseman’s passing on August 28, the very day that MLB was celebrating a belated Jackie Robinson Day, since it’s the day Robinson and Branch Rickey first met. The premature loss of a talented actor who played so many African-American icons has prompted a resurgence of regard for his past work, and it seemed only right to revisit 42, the story of baseball trailblazer Jackie Robinson. I had seen it years ago and, not being a baseball fan, vaguely logged it in the “good, not great” category, but I recall my dad really liking it and watching it several times. Now rewatching it with my mom, I enjoyed even more this true story that has become timelier with age.
Aside from his history book summary, I wasn’t very familiar with Jackie Robinson’s story, but I was pleased when some further reading revealed how historically accurate much of 42 is, from individual lines of dialogue to the shared Methodist faith of Robinson (Boseman) and Dodgers owner Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford). It would have been so easy to turn the colorful Rickey into a mere caricature or lose the nuance of Robinson’s restraint. Yet both Ford and Boseman do outstanding work here, filling both characters with a realistic dynamism, Ford trying to disappear behind facial prosthetics and a Southern growl and Boseman embodying Christ-like nobility. The film itself might have been too pedestrian to be an awards contender, but I rather wish that the two of them could have gotten a nomination or two for their performances. In light of Boseman’s death, lines like “He was made to last” have also taken on a more bittersweet tone than before.
Perhaps the film’s themes are a bit on-the-nose at times, such as one mocked scene where a hesitant white boy starts yelling slurs at Jackie when he sees his father do the same. Yet I don’t doubt that such interactions do serve to perpetuate prejudices. That same boy is later shown looking regretful when he sees Jackie’s teammate Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black, grown up since Tokyo Drift) put an arm around Jackie on the field. I know it feels a little manufactured since the kid probably would have been raised to be used to such language, but it still serves as an example of how children can be shaped by what they see and hear. Bigotry or its opposite don’t come from society as a whole, at least not anymore, but from individual interactions that shape how we view each other, so the film’s message still rings true.
At a time when racial disparities and injustices have come to the forefront of national debate, 42 feels like a shining example of how to combat racism on a one-on-one level. While Robinson later assisted Martin Luther King, Jr. in the civil rights movement, he epitomized King’s principle of nonviolence on the field, having “the guts not to fight back”, as Rickey tells him, even while being lobbed by blatant abuse. I loved the perceptive line “Echo a curse with a curse, and they’ll hear only yours,” while the alternative plays out beautifully when Robinson’s hesitant teammates take his side over the sneering vitriol of an opposing team’s manager (Alan Tudyk). Turning the other cheek has gone out of fashion in our modern society, but the stronger the contrast between offender and victim, the more support there will be from good people to address such indignities. In every new or daring pursuit, there must always be a first, and, as the first, Jackie Robinson did untold good in moving the sport of baseball and the country closer to its ideals.
Best line: (Jackie Robinson) “You want a player who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?” (Branch Rickey) “No. No. I want a player who’s got the guts not to fight back. People aren’t gonna like this. They’re gonna do anything to get you to react. Echo a curse with a curse, and they’ll hear only yours. Follow a blow with a blow, and they’ll say, “The Negro lost his temper,” that “The Negro does not belong.” Your enemy will be out in force… and you cannot meet him on his own low ground. We win with hitting, running, fielding, only that. We win if the world is convinced of two things: that you are a fine gentleman and a great baseball player. Like our Savior… you gotta have the guts… to turn the other cheek. Can you do it?” (Jackie) “You give me a uniform… you give me a, heh, number on my back… and I’ll give you the guts.”