American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
If you were offended by the supposedly profligate use of the n-word in “Django Unchained,” it stands to reason you’ll be outraged by a scene in “42” in which Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman climbs out of the dugout and spews cruel racist epithets at Brooklyn Dodgers rookie Jackie Robinson.
You can see the pain and rage on Robinson’s face as he tries to concentrate on his at-bat, knowing if he goes after Chapman, the headlines won’t be about the hateful manager — they’ll be about the first black player in the major leagues “attacking” the opposition.
It’s a tough scene to sit through, with the likable character actor Alan Tudyk bravely portraying this real-life embodiment of pure, ignorant, racist hate, and Chadwick Boseman doing equally fine work as a the fiery, intense Robinson, who must perform with the weight of instant history on his shoulders — while racists such as Chapman (and some of Jackie’s own teammates) are hectoring him every step of the way. (Sadly, the Chapman character wasn’t the least bit fictionalized. The ’47 incident really happened. Before that, as an All-Star outfielder with the Yankees, Chapman reportedly taunted Jewish fans with anti-Semitic slurs and the Nazi salute. What a guy.)
The sliding moral scale of major league baseball at the time was such that Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher was suspended for an entire season for having an affair with a married actress — but Chapman was just told to knock it off with the racist taunts and to pose for a publicity photo with Robinson.