JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm) is a struggling baseball agent, in a last ditch attempt to save his company, JB decides to recruit cricket players from India, via a huge talent competition, and turn them into professional baseball players. What could possibly go wrong!?
Based on a true story, Million Dollar Arm is the tale of two young kids plucked out of their tiny Indian villages, and taken to LA under the pressure to perform. As well as this, it is the story of JB, a man so consumed with his work that he has almost forgotten what it means to care about someone other than himself.
Jon Hamm doesn’t really stretch himself in the role of JB, and Mad Men fans already know that the actor can play the jerk incredibly well. Here though, we see a softer side to Hamm as JB struggles to understand what it means to be a mentor and friend, as well as a manager. Lake Bell plays JB’s tenant Brenda, she is a lot less quirky than we have seen her recently, but she brings compassion and gentleness to the film, and manages to smooth down JB’s rough edges.
Alan Arkin plays the cantankerous baseball scout well, and his caustic and sleep filled scenes bring a lot of humour to the proceedings and Bill Paxton has a small role as baseball coach Tom House.
Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal play the two bewildered Indian kids, with talent for throwing a ball. They both manage the ‘fish out of water’ situation well, but are gentle and kind, making it easy for the audience to get on their side. Pitobash Tripathy plays Amit, a baseball fan brought in by JB to help him negotiate India. Tripathy makes the character eager and rather like a puppy; he doesn’t always get it right, but there is a sincerity and enthusiasm to the character that makes us care.
Writer Tom McCarthy has proven in the past that he has a talent for tapping into the emotional and engaging reality that we live in. As well as writing Up, McCarthy has also brought us the fantastic film The Station Agent, which introduced Peter Dinklage to a wider audience. Here, however, McCarthy’s screenplay struggles to steer clear of the schmaltzy, saccharine side of the sporting success story. McCarthy manages to make the characters believable, but things tend to be resolved a little too easily – through a kind gesture or a motivating speech – which serves to pull the film away from reality a little.
Director Craig Gillespie most recently brought us the excellent remake of Fright Night, so this is a slight change of pace for the director. For a filmmaker whose previous films – including Lars and the Real Girl – have felt rounded and engaging, Million Dollar Arm feels a little half cooked, and as though the universe it inhabits is not quite fully formed. Gillespie does his job, and the performances are fine, but everything feels a little too sweet and easily wrapped up.
Million Dollar Arm is an inoffensive, light movie, which feels a little half-baked at times. Arkin, Hamm, Lake, Sharma and Mittal are all warm and engaging, but they are let down by McCarthy’s (surprisingly) trite script, and some competent but uninspiring direction from Gillespie. Million Dollar arm is sweet, but it’s hardly a challenge either for audience, cast or crew.