For, July 19, 2013

"42" is not exactly Jackie Robinson's life story, although much of his personal life comes into play. The real story told here is Robinson's relationship with the sport he loved, and also with the man who hired him be the first black player in Major League Baseball, Branch Rickey.

And the result is a highly entertaining, uplifting and, for a younger generation, perhaps even educational ride that makes it one of the year's best movies. New to Blu-ray and DVD (Warner, PG-13), "42" relates how the Brooklyn Dodgers' president and general manager had been looking at players in the Negro leagues for a few years, confident he would recognize the one with the right amount of talent and the strength of character to lead desegregation in baseball. Rickey found that man in Jackie Robinson, and together they made history.

The film depicts Rickey as an idealistic man, though he downplays that aspect himself, saying that the move also makes business sense. But it's obvious that the action he takes is motivated by something more than dollar signs.

After settling on Robinson as the man for the job, Rickey tells a colleague, "He's a Methodist. I'm a Methodist. God's a Methodist." Later he advises Robinson to follow the example of Jesus in "turning the other cheek," meaning he will have to withstand the inevitable taunts and threats without reacting in any way other than by taking the high road, and by winning baseball games.

Chadwick Boseman is perfect as the tightly coiled, suspicious Robinson, unsure at first of what to believe as his place in history begins to unfold and Rickey's predictions of opposition play out as expected. He also projects the inner strength and fortitude, as well as the baseball-playing chops, necessary to fill out the character and allow the audience to embrace him as a person rather than an icon on a pedestal.

Ford is all in as the hunched over, cigar-chomping, late-in-life Ricky — a vivid character role, and by all accounts Ricky was a character. Ford plays him as gruff but sentimental, sly but humorous, a performance that reminded me of some of the great old character actors of the movies' golden age. But he also manages to infuse Rickey with humanity and depth so that he's more than merely a comic caricature.

Don't miss this one. It's a home run, bases loaded.