After seeing his work in “42” playing sports icon Jackie Robinson, I went to the IMDb to look him up, afraid I’d see that I somehow missed this guy. And while I’m pretty sure I’ve seen him onscreen before, it’s safe to say that “42” is the biggest showcase he’s had as a performer so far. For most audiences, “42” is going to be their introduction to him. And whatever you think of the film, it’s safe to say that Boseman gives a charismatic central performance that should put him on the map for casting directors everywhere.
Stepping into the shoes of a giant is never easy, and one of the hardest things about doing a biopic is finding someone who can suggest the greatness that makes the subject worth talking about in the first place. With Jackie Robinson, you have a double challenge, because you have to not only somehow capture the enormous charisma that made him such a perfect candidate for mainstream integration but also do a credible job of suggesting the physical gifts that made Jackie such a joy to watch when he was on the field.
Boseman is pretty great in the film, and I would be surprised if he doesn’t end up getting a lot of work out of this. There are moments in the film that I don’t think work at all except for Boseman, who can take even the corniest of scenes and find an emotional truth in there. He’s been asked to play a very saintly version of a complicated man, and I’m sure at least part of why he approached the role the way he did is because he spent time with Jackie’s real-life widow. Even with the way the script works, though, Boseman shows us the struggle that’s going on inside this guy as he tries to take a step that’s going to change things for not just him, but for everyone who comes after him.
We spoke about the pressures that are on an actor when he’s playing a real person, and about the preparation he did. It was, as most of these conversations are, too short, but it was enough of a conversation to walk away convinced that Boseman is just warming up. For what? Only time will tell.
“42” is in theaters this weekend.