August 28 2014
Review of the film, ‘Million Dollar Arm’…
IT’S a funny old game.
That might be one of the most popular expressions to be bandied about when talking about the ‘beautiful game’ (as in football), but it could just as well be deployed to describe any sport.
Let’s face it – the idea of finding two baseball players from India seems absolutely crazy on the face of it.
But no, that’s exactly what real US sports agent JB Bernstein (known as ‘JB’) actually did. And the real life scenario forms the basis of “Million Dollar Arm”, a Disney-produced movie out on August 29.
In 2007, with his business in danger of going under, JB took the highly unusual step of travelling to India to find two potential recruits – who might just be able to sign to an American pro baseball league outfit.
No one follows baseball, let alone plays it, in India – but JB (played by Jon Hamm of “Mad Men” fame) reckons there are going to be a few good pitchers there while watching late night cable TV cricket in his sprawling LA pad.
His idea is greeted somewhat sceptically by his colleague and friend Ash Vasudevan (Aasif Mandvi) but off sets JB and baseball scout Ray Poitevant (Alan Arkin) to India – where the film was shot on location in Lucknow, in the searing heat of spring.
Cue a whole lot of fun, for us.
And fun in the broadest sense that is. Hamm is very watchable and delivers a fine, if slightly understated performance, and the whole show is almost stolen by Arkin.
He shows a wonderful disdain and detachment from his task in India or what looks like it, frequently asleep and bored – until he can hear someone pitch decently.
Lake Bell, as Brenda, a down-at-heel medic, who lives in an annexe at the back of JB’s impressive condominium, adds some romantic spice to proceedings and is a lovely presence. Indeed, the low-key romance is extremely well-executed and seems grown up and believable (which for Hollywood, mostly is a feat).
It’s not a huge surprise the film has done decent business in the US and India, when it was released earlier this year.
While the story is essentially about how Rinku and Dinesh, the two aspiring baseball players, make it through the ‘Million Dollar Arm’ contest in India and onto the US, where they face the even stiffer challenge of a pro contract with a baseball team, the real story is JB’s and how his outlook is totally transformed.
Stiff, money-driven, self-absorbed, he is your archetypal American a**hole.
When Ash spots Brenda for the first time and quizzes him about her, JB is unenthused and says she is not his type – to which Ash memorably retorts “What – because she is not a super model?”
It might be a little too cute for some – but there is something laudable about the endeavour and how all the characters face up to their individual challenges.
The soundtrack by AR Rahman is brilliant and Craig Gillespie’s direction is slick and keeps everything neatly on track.
On first viewing it was okay – on second, it was more enjoyable and really did hit home and seemed a far better film than first impressions allowed.
Why? There is a kind of predictable arc, but second time around there’s a greater appreciation of everything and the finely modulated performances add to what is a sweet, good-natured and quite decent (family, yes, you can go with your folks) film and the ending…ah, well…over to you.
ACV rating: 3.5/5