24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Baseball

'42' star: Jackie Robinson pic shows we're 'evolving as a race'

June 12, 2012 |  6:29 pm

Jackie Robinson died 40 years ago this fall. But lest anyone think the Brooklyn Dodgers icon is best viewed as a relic of history in these days of multicutural baseball, a star of the upcoming Robinson film “42” says that the barrier-breaking baseball player is as relevant as ever.

“After electing Barack Obama, it seems so natural we can beat the crap out of him,” Hamish Linklater, who plays Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca in the movie, said by phone from the film's Alabama set. “Every now and then it’s nice to say ‘maybe we are a evolving as a race and a people.’ A baseball movie is a way to offer a little bit of hope.”

Linklater, best known as deadpan brother Matthew Kimble in TV's “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” tackles the role of a Dodgers pitcher who was Robinson’s teammate during the infielder’s game-changing debut season of 1947. (Branca was one of the few Dodgers willing to line up next to Robinson on opening day. Major League Baseball is commemorating the 65th anniversary of Robinson's iconic season this year.)

Brian Helgeland (“L.A. Confidential”) wrote and is directing the movie, which looks at General Manager Branch Rickey’s  decision to sign Robinson and Manager Leo Durocher’s choice to play him in the face of a fierce backlash. Harrison Ford stars as Rickey while up-and-comer Chadwick Boseman plays Robinson.

Linklater describes the film, which Legendary Pictures is financing and Warner Bros. will release at the start of next year's baseball season, as “a sports movie and a social justice movie rolled into one.” “Sports is such a great contextualizer,” he added. (The "42" is, of course, a reference to Robinson's number, which has become a symbol of cross-racial heterogeneity throughout sports.)

At 86, Branca is the only surviving star from that 1947 team. His back story is fascinating in its own right. Though he won 21 games that year and was a three-time All-Star, Branca became best known for an ill-fated relief appearance in 1951 in which he gave up the so-called “Shot Heard 'Round the World” to the New York Giants’ Bobby Thomson. Branca later found out Thomson was stealing signs but kept quiet for decades because he and the Giants slugger had become friends.

On top of that, Branca learned late in life that his mother was Jewish but that she had kept the fact from him and his more than dozen siblings after fleeing Eastern Europe at the start of the 20th century.

“None of that is really in this film,” Linklater quipped. “But it would make a great movie.”


Jackie Robinson did something he had to do

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New Dodgers owners seeks to include family of Jackie Robinson

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Jackie Robinson and his teammates at Ebbets Field in April 1947. Credit: AP

Brad Pitt's 'Moneyball' swings for the fences [Trailer]

June 16, 2011 |  9:48 pm

It’s hard to imagine a contemporary sports movie packing in more than the usual cliches about a fighting spirit -- almost as hard as it is to imagine Michael Lewis’ idea-heavy "Moneyball"  becoming a movie in the first place –- but the trailer for Brad Pitt's September film manages to upend both preconceptions.

The piece, which hit the Web on Thursday, begins with a bit of "Bad News Bears" familiarity, as Pitt's Billy Beane, of course the Oakland A's general manager, tries to win by fielding a group of misfits. But once that's out of the way it buckles down to the more interesting dramatic subject of a man trying to change a system while carrying no small amount of doubt himself, rendering visual the story Lewis told in the Beane plot line of his 2003 nonfiction bestseller.

In between, it flashes just enough numbers and spreadsheets to imply that Lewis' ideas about sabermetrics aren't entirely forgotten, while also suggesting that Beane's confidence -- and his clashes with the baseball-scout old guard -- provide some humor.

"If we win with this team, we’ll have changed the game," Pitt’s character says. It's of course far too early to say whether the movie will be a game-changer in the Hollywood sense of the term. It certainly has the team –- which, in addition to Pitt includes writers Steven Zallian and Aaron Sorkin, a (refreshingly less jocular) Jonah Hill and director Bennett Miller, handpicked by Pitt because of his feature debut, "Capote."

And while there's always the question with a movie like this of whether the stakes can match the drama –- it is just about a baseball game, after all -- the trailer contains plenty of hints that Miller reaches base safely, and then some, with his first film in six years.


Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain wonder if hype, squareness are behind Tree of Life divisions

-- Steven Zeitchik



Robert Redford will star in a revamped tale of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson

April 6, 2011 |  3:10 pm

EXCLUSIVE: He starred in one of the most famous fictional baseball movies of all time. Now Robert Redford looks to play one of the most famous real-life baseball figures of all time.

The "Natural" star is on board to play Branch Rickey in a long-gestating, recently jump-started version of a historical drama involving the Brooklyn Dodgers executive and Jackie Robinson, the black player he famously signed.

The as-yet untitled film will be financed by Thomas Tull's Legendary Pictures, which has a first-look deal with Warner Bros. and a long history of co-financing pictures with them. Robinson's part is not yet cast.

"L.A. Confidental" and "Mystic River" writer Brian Helgeland will write and direct the film, Redford said, penning a draft of an earlier version written by, among others, "John Adams" scribe Kirk Ellis. A Helgeland representative declined to comment. [Update, 6:49 p.m.: A source close to Legendary said that Helgeland will be offering an original take.]

The film project has existed in various incarnations before, at one point being developed under ESPN Films with the writers of "Ali," and Redford loosely attached. News about the race-themed drama seems particularly pointed coming just as "Memphis,"  a Martin Luther King biopic directed by Paul Greengrass, has fallen apart.Rickey

Redford's film will look less at the specifics of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier and more at the complex relationship between Rickey, who scholars believed integrated baseball for reasons of both idealism and economics, and Robinson, the second baseman who faced tremendous discrimination when he signed with the Dodgers system in 1945.

"No one really knows the Rickey part, the political maneuvers and the partnership they had to share," Redford said. "It's the story underneath the story you thought you knew." (Rickey, the subject of a new biography by Jimmy Breslin, is a former player who also ushered in other innovations, including the modern farm system and the use of equipment such as the batting helmet. Redford has a long association with baseball; he played at Van Nuys High with Don Drysdale and most recently threw out the first pitch at the Chicago Cubs' season opener.)

The Sundance founder directs a similarly the-American-history-you-thought-you-knew picture with his upcoming Mary Surratt drama "The Conspirator" (more on that shortly). He said the Rickey-Robinson film, along with a potential lead turn as Bill Bryson in "A Walk in the Woods," represents his desire to get back in front of the camera. Redford last starred in a movie he didn't direct six years ago, in Lasse Hallstrom's "An Unfinished Life."

--Steven Zeitchik


Photos: Robert Redford throwing out the first pitch at the Chicago Cubs season opener. Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press; Jackie Robinsion embracing Branch Rickey in 1962. Credit: Associated Press


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