Review: ‘42’ a moving depiction of a legend

Thanks to “A League of Their Own,” everybody knows there’s no crying in baseball.

But there is crying in baseball movies – at least for the audience.

That’s one likely effect of “42,” the smashing new picture about Jackie Robinson.

Other films have been made about the man who broke major-league baseball’s color barrier – including one in which Robinson played himself; but a suitably ambitious big-screen retelling is long overdue.

Filmmaker Brian Helgeland’s impressive resume – “Knight’s Tale,” “Mystic River,” “L.A. Confidential,” Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood” – hardly seemed to put him in the running for a sports biopic.

Nonetheless, serving as both writer and director, Helgeland pulls it off beautifully here.

To begin with, he’s got a ready-made story loaded with drama, tension and heroism. Robinson was continually insulted, assaulted, even thrown out of one park after scoring a run – but he manfully kept his cool, eventually earning Rookie of the Year in 1947, the National League’s MVP in 1949 and a spot in the Hall of Fame in ’62. Robinson stole home 19 times; in this film, he will steal your heart.

That’s thanks largely to a stellar lead performance from Chadwick Boseman, whose controlled fury reminds us what it cost Robinson to blaze the trail for others.

Having read Arnold Rampersad’s masterful biography, I was glad this script played up the support Robinson got – and needed – from his stalwart wife.

Jackie died in 1972 – but Rachel, now 90, owns the rights to his story and helped out on this film; I think she’s gonna love it.

Helgeland also gets dandy work from Harrison Ford, bringing out the staunch decency of Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey, who made the bold decision to put a black man in the majors. Once or twice Ford makes you want to stand up and cheer.

Excellent support is provided by Alan Tudyk as a racist coach, Christopher Meloni as Leo Durocher and Lucas Black as Pee Wee Reese.

Reese’s famous moment putting his arm around a heckled Robinson in Cincinnati – signaling Robinson’s acceptance and quieting obnoxious fans – brought tears to my eyes; it’s flawlessly written and performed.

In this scene and elsewhere, “42” wears its heart on its sleeve; with its forthright esteem for Jackie, Rachel and their supporters – along with lots of in-your-face confrontational racism – the movie will strike some viewers as not quite subtle enough.

But a few of the ugliest incidents from Rampersad’s book aren’t even in the movie – and I had no problem with the way Helgeland extols his champions and excoriates his villains.

Robinson is one of this country’s great heroes and any film about him really needs to be larger than life.

“42” is stirring, funny, infuriating, romantic, thrilling and – except for two or three profane terms – very family friendly; I was pleased to see that last weekend’s receipts put it on track to be the most successful baseball movie ever.

Batter up!