Smooth storytelling and savvy social commentary make for involving and sometimes moving drama in "The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson" at 8 tonight on cable channel TNT.
The film is called a docudrama, but don't take the "docu" part too literally. The filmmakers' fine print says this is a "fact-based" dramatization of an event in the life of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American allowed to play in baseball's major leagues. While Robinson actually was court-martialed, "fact-based" leaves great leeway for the invention of details.
TNT's story takes place during World War II, before Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in 1947. The made-for-cable movie is about racism, not baseball, as it chronicles Robinson's induction into the Army, his commissioning as a lieutenant and the ugly and widespread racism that he and other African-American GIs experienced. The rampant racism at Fort Hood in Texas led to the court-martial in tonight's film.
Andre Braugher plays Robinson the way Robinson played baseball: all-out and like there's no tomorrow. Braugher's performance is multi-layered and rich enough to make up for too many one-dimensional characterizations elsewhere.
"The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson" is a big-league production -- another example of cable now delivering some of our best and most socially conscious TV movies.