42 starts as Dodgers President and GM, Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), explains to a couple of his subordinates that the times are changing and that he plans on being the first manager to introduce a black man to major league baseball. "I don't know who he is or where he is, but he's coming." Rickey's awareness and preparation for the harsh future sets the tone for this film's depiction of racism in Robinson's life.
Boseman's performance tends to be overshadowed by both the film's message of overcoming oppression and the exceptional performances of Ford and Nicole Beharie, who plays Rachel Robinson, Jackie's wife. We find relief in the presence of Rickey and Mrs. Robinson from the stresses of racism that are impossible to avoid.
The true appeal of this film and what separates it from other films tackling the subject of segregation in sports (The Express, Remember The Titans) is its depictions of Robinson's struggle on the field. Through the vision of Helgeland and the technique of cinematographer Don Burgess, every time Robinson takes a hit, we take a hit. Every time he steals base, we steal base. They show us exactly why baseball was America's game and why Jackie Robinson could not be ignored, regardless of his race.
The highlight of 42's message lies in a scene with Phillies manager, Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk), attacking Robinson, up to bat, with a barrage of childish and racist insults, "nigger, nigger, nigger." The scene is extensive and takes a toll on us as an audience because we know that, if Robinson reacts, the oppressors will have won.
42 thrives in its moments of athletic competition that are thrilling for anyone, not just sports fans. There is a repeated thought that "...he's coming." Now, he is obviously Jackie Robinson, but what he represents is change. Change is inevitable and, most importantly, change is necessary. Whether he wanted to be or not, Robinson was a pioneer in the advancement of equality in America. He has most certainly arrived and his legacy will live on, thanks in small part to this exceptional film.
*Changed to a five star system for an adequate rating