After years and years of development, Robert Redford finally has the pieces in place to bring the story of Branch Rickey to the big screen. Brian Helgeland will be making his way behind the camera, writing and directing the story of the famous Brooklyn Dodgers executive and his relationship with Jackie Robinson, the first black professional baseball player*.
The film is set to focus on not only Robinson’s extraordinary ordeal as a player who broke the color barrier, but also on the trials and travails of Rickey, who saw the economic benefits from signing Robinson. Redford had long been passionate about the film, but not so much about acting, having sworn off appearing in front of the camera since “Lions For Lambs” played to empty theaters four years ago. Helgeland has also been long gone from directing: the writer has been busy writing films as diverse as “Robin Hood,” “Green Zone” and “Mystic River” in the last few years, but his last directorial effort was 2003’s forgotten “The Order,” though a vastly different director’s cut of his 1999 effort “Payback” hit DVD in 2006.
On one level, a film about Branch Rickey is a compelling one. In addition to bringing Robinson to the majors, Rickey was a pioneer in having developed the earliest version of what we now know as the minor leagues, while also becoming a powerful force in establishing the use of a batting helmet in the sport. However, Robinson’s story of racial discrimination is powerful and worthy of its own movie: do we need to muck up the narrative of another black athlete with the story of another extremely noble white man? No word on when production begins, but Redford, who is also developing “A Walk In The Woods” as a starring vehicle, should make a decision soon.
*Print the legend: The first black professional baseball player was Moses Fleetwood Walker, a catcher in the 1880’s who openly railed against the idea of racial integration, championing the possibility of blacks returning to Africa. Now that’s a movie.