Favorite pastime – It’s pretty much a given that if anything remotely close to baseball is featured on the big screen, yours truly will be in attendance. No matter what it’s about or who is in it, I will watch it given my love for the game. And it’s been this way for me ever since I saw “The Natural,” my favorite all-time film and one that I feel stands alone among all sports films. Combine that with the fact I played baseball as a kid and it’s a given I would be all over something like “Million Dollar Arm,” the best film in theaters that no one is watching.
The story here…follows super-agent J.B. Berstein (Jon Hamm) and the struggle to find new talent after leaving Pro Access Group to open up his own firm dubbed Seven Figures Management. The move was supposed to free him up from all the bureaucratic nonsense he dealt with under the larger company, but after failing to land a big-time NFL free agent, Berstein started to question things. So, one night after drowning in his sorrows with right-hand man Ash Vasudevan (Aasif Mandvi), he flips on the TV and starts channel surfing. He stumbles upon a cricket game, laughs and then moves to the next channel which featured the reality show Britain’s Got Talent. He goes back to the cricket and it was then he started formulating the idea of going to India to find untapped talent. Knowing that local businessman Chang (Tzi Ma) was already looking for something different, they pitch the idea of holding a “talent” contest in India dubbed Million Dollar Arm in hopes of finding the best players to eventually bring to the US for a chance at playing in Major League Baseball. Chang buys the idea and gives them a year to deliver, which proves to be a blessing and a curse for everyone involved in this rags to riches story that will have you smiling from ear to ear.
Acting out – I think the cast had a lot to do with no one going to watch this film. Outside of Jon Hamm, which no one but Mad Men fans really like, there is not a whole lot to get excited about on paper. But, you quickly realize that’s a not a problem, thanks to the well-crafted story by Tom McCarthy which made it real easy for the cast to succeed. That’s at least how I saw it, as Hamm actually looked like a real actor in this one. That’s big and needed given the rest of the cast was mostly made up of actors we have never seen before. The two exceptions were Bill Paxton and Alan Arkin, who for their supporting roles helped this film go from good to great. These two guys are so comfortable in their careers that the rest of the cast can’t help but feed off them, including Hamm. Especially Arkin, who once again stole every scene he was in making you laugh when you didn’t really expect to. Then there was Lake Bell, who you think you know, but won’t know from here. I like her and felt she added the perfect balance to the cast of mostly men.
Wholesome as it gets – When I start to breakdown a film like “Million Dollar Arm,” I can’t help but focus on how well the writing and directing was. This film, which was made for just $25 million looked very polished and like something you find nominated toward the end of the year. That says a lot about what director Craig Gillespie did with McCarthy’s script, which was based on a true story. I don’t know, maybe I’m just a sucker for any film that has baseball in it. But, even saying that, I enjoyed a lot of what Gillespie was able to do in and out of the different filming locations like Mumbai, Atlanta and Los Angeles. He brought the reality that Patel and Singh faced in leaving their home to go to America, a dream very few of them from that part of the world ever get a chance to fulfill. It was a touching story and one that speaks to what has been happening to the sport of baseball for the past decade with so many MLB clubs finding talent outside of America. So, to see it play out on the big screen like it did was neat and extremely fulfilling overall.
Bottom Line – I understand why the producers wanted to release “Million Dollar Arm” during the peak of baseball season, but I wish they would have held off a little longer. Because a story as good as this deserves the kind of attention given during the fall season, not in the summer when everyone is in an adjacent theater watching some over budget blockbuster.
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