Sixty-six years ago Jackie Robinson, the Barack Obama of baseball, walked onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn to become the first black player in the majors.
"42" was the number on his jersey. It's also the name of Brian Helgeland's lively account of the baseball legend's rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
This Norman Rockwell painting come to life is an unashamedly old-school inspirational, starring gifted newcomer Chadwick Boseman as the lightning-footed infielder with a bat like thunder. It doesn't hurt the cause that Boseman swings, runs and slides like a real ballplayer.
Helgeland tells the story through Robinson's three defining relationships. There is his loving marriage to Rachel Robinson, played byNicole Beharie in a spirited turn as his helpmeet and life coach.
There is his complex professional marriage to Dodgers owner Branch Rickey — that would be Harrison Ford in a cigar- and scenery-chewing performance — whose agenda is mixed. Were Rickey's motives for integrating baseball sparked by enlightenment? Economic self-interest? Or something else altogether?
Most moving is Robinson's shotgun marriage to teammates. At first, most don't want to play with him. Something happens when Phillies manager Ben Chapman race-baits him. Then the Cardinals' Enos Slaughter gets physical.
With teammates like Pee Wee Reese and Ralph Branca by his side, Robinson stands up to the bigots, overcoming them with his actions, not his words.
Movies aren't at-bats. But "42," like the man who wore the number, smacks it out of the park — and straight into your heart.
Follow Carrie Rickey at carrierickey.com.