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MILLION DOLLAR ARM (review)

Review by Caitlyn Thompson
Produced by Joe Roth, Mark Ciardi, Gordon Gra
Written by Tom McCarthy
Directed by Craig Gillespie
Starring Jon Hamm, Aasif Mandvi, Bill Paxton
Suraj Sharma, Lake Bell, Alan Arkin

Million Dollar Arm is based on the true story of how sports agent, JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm), recruited the first Indian players for Major League Baseball.

It’s a typical sports film stocked with a selfish lead, the humble underdogs, a beautiful yet sensible love interest, and a few quirky sidekicks.

Despite the fact that I didn’t really like this movie; I found Million‘s overarching message somewhat valuable: Bernstein represents the spoiled child who bleeds temper tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. Obsessed with materialism, he is a narcissist seemingly incapable of rationality.  Children (hopefully most) do grow out of this.

Rinku (Suraj Sharm) and Dinesh (Madhur Mattil), the two talented and lucky recruits, are the epitome of innocence and wonder. They cherish family above all, they taken nothing for granted, and more, they don’t complain, they don’t argue, they are simply respectful. It’s humbling to watch.

Final moral – let go of materialism and appreciate what you have.

All that being said, this is a PG movie, which I assume a few young folks will see, but, societal commentary is often lost on children, who I don’t think will really grasp this film, and I fear adults may not really care. Who knows?

It’s hard not to see Jon Hamm as anything but Don Draper (Mad Men) because even as JB Bernstein, he’s a stiff, rude, self-serving prick. Occasional kind moments peak through, but I was put in a sour mood by his character.

Bernstein’s idea to recruit pitchers from India materialized from an odd mash-up of cricket-playing and Susan Boyle singing “I Dreamed a Dream” on Britain’s Got Talent.  This kind of heavy-handed “grand realization” moment was repeated several times throughout the movie rendering them trite and superficial.

Underdog stories are no doubt filled with sappy lines and barf-worthy kindness, but for the most part they crumble the wall of cynical resistance and force you to smile. That’s what makes movies like Cool Runnings and Miracle so great. They are filled with humor, rigor, complication and growth.
Million Dollar Arm doesn’t leave any time for growth, which is surprising because it’s two hours long.

The recruitment in India, while featuring beautiful country shots, takes too long, watching Hamm be a dick to his recruits wastes another half hour, and the only movement of the film occurs in the final twenty minutes. Sigh.

Sharma and Mattil are a breath of fresh air when onscreen. Their doe-eyed, wonder-filled presence is the only reason I unclenched my fists. The actors convey culture shock and homesickness with such authenticity. Their brief banter is amusing however the two are left in the background as Hamm’s character deals with his I’m-a-narcissist-crises.

Guess who’s his hero?

JB’s tenant is a hot doctor lady who Rinku and Dinesh confide in during their recruiter’s absence. Her role is strictly to turn JB into a kind man. But no one changes after hearing one sentence about the benefits of familial happiness. If the directors had removed half an hour from the beginning and inserted it into the middle, there could have been potentially for a believable relationship, not to mention some form of tenderness towards Rinku and Dinesh. We got to see JB smiling at them on the field during a brief I’m-a-new-man montage. But other than that, JB just scolded them a lot. I felt sad a lot watching this movie just because Suraj and Madhur are so damn adorable. 

Side note: throwing in Alan Arkin (who literally sleeps during all but one of his scenes) was cheap. He’s great and better than that. The same can be said for Bill Paxton, who played pitching coach, Tom House. He was another conscience who’s part was overshadowed my Bernstein’s ego.

In closing, I didn’t find much great about this movie — a few folks around me donned large grins during and after the film so maybe I’m just a sourpuss — but still, I appreciated the underlying message — don’t be greedy, happiness does not equal money, and take care of those around you, pay attention and love. It’s easier sans Hamm.

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