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A Grand Slam

 Posted: 8:26 AM April 18, 2013

It would be all too easy to characterize "42" as simply a full dress, Hollywood biopic, infused with nostalgia and decency, while remaining earnest to a fault.

But "42" is much more, and it's the "more" that makes it a fine and special film, one that is a must-see, especially for young viewers who will find it not only inspiring — a study of one man's character and his ability to transcend — but revelatory regarding the raw truth about Jim Crow in America in the years following World War II.

The film opens with Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, explaining to his head scout that it is his intention to bring the first negro ballplayer to the Dodgers. He instructs the scout to find him that singular man, knowing that he must not only possess superb talent and ability, but must also be able to absorb what Rickey knows will be an unyielding amount of abuse. For what Rickey is asking the man to do is cross a line never spoken of, or delineated, but as inviolable as any law: There are not now, nor will there ever be black players in Major League Baseball.

42

128 min

Rated PG-13

The Place Beyond the Pines

140 min

Rated R

That man is found, playing in the Negro League with the Kansas City Monarchs. The year is 1945. His name is Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), a graduate of UCLA, a commissioned officer in the war, and court-martialed from the military for refusing to sit in the back of a transport bus.

Rickey and Robinson, after a first meeting, one that crackles with intensity, agree that it will not be Robinson's mission to fight back, but to remain silent in the face of the unyielding resistance and animus that surely lies ahead. Neither, however, completely understands the racist vitriol and bigotry about to be unleashed when Robinson takes the field for the Dodgers for the first time in the spring of 1947.

What "42" is about is the decency of Rickey and a narrow few. To include Robinson. But it also is about the hardened attitudes of racism and prejudice, found not only among the players and owners of Major League Baseball, and not just in the ballparks of the South, but among Americans in general, made manifest by the white fans who stand and scream unimaginable slurs at Robinson (the "n" word spills from the lips of managers and fans alike) as he stands at bat, his isolation complete.

At no time does director Brian Helgeland's film turn away from these ugly truths, much to the director's credit; therefore, "42" is as much America's story as it is Robinson's. While Robinson faces seemingly impossible odds, so does America as the nation confronts its profound intolerance. And it is baseball that takes us to that crossroads moment when gradually people began to realize that Jim Crow is not who we are as a people. Robinson and Rickey pried open a door, and others walked through. It was called the Civil Rights movement.

The Place Beyond the Pines

"The Place Beyond the Pines" is an engrossing and ambitious triptych: three acts, while different in tone, texture, and subject, which are clearly linked.

The setting is Schenectady, N.Y. The film opens with Luke (Ryan Gosling, "Driver"), a carnival motorcycle rider, his arms heavily tattooed, joining two other riders in a steel cage, engines racing, circling its interior at ever-increasing speed. It's almost too apt a metaphor for Luke's life.

Leaving the tent, he meets Romina (Eva Menendes). They had a brief fling a year ago, when the carnival passed through town. Luke discovers that she is now raising their child. Although a roustabout, he decides to stay in town and be the father he never had. And so begins a series of events, embellished with unintended consequences, which result in a deadly confrontation between Luke and Avery (Bradley Cooper), a Schenectady police officer on patrol. That intersection changes their lives, as we see revealed in Act Two, which focuses exclusively on Avery.

"The Place Beyond the Pines" is ultimately a narrative about fathers and sons and so in Act Three, which takes place 15 years later, the sins of the fathers are played out when Luke's and Avery's teenage sons meet in an encounter that changes their lives forever as well.

Writer and director Derek Cianfrance ("Blue Valentine") captures a certain cinematic lighting, and while the film is uneven, it holds together in an absorbing way because of, in great part, the superb ensemble of actors.

— Chris Honoré


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