DIR: Criag Gillespie • WRI: Thomas McCarthy • PRO: Mark Ciardi, Gordon Gray, Joe Roth • ED: Tatiana S. Riegel • DOP: Gyula Pados • DES: Barry Robison • MUS: A.R. Rahman • Cast: Jon Hamm, Bill Paxton, Lake Bell
Million Dollar Arm is a near sterling swing for the Disney team. The film is a sports drama centred around a struggling sports promoter, JB Bernstein (John Hamm) whose career has taken a nose dive since he became self employed. The wild glory days of working for an agency seem firmly set behind JB. This stark reality is seemingly confirmed when all star basketball player Popo refuses to sign with him. JB’s lavish lifestyle of shiny porches, big houses and busty blonde models is being overshadowed by failure, bills and broken washing machines. There’s a hollowness to JB’s materialist dream, and this is really the thematic core of the film.
JB’s clutching at straws as to how he can maintain his lifestyle, he has an epiphany while flicking channels between X-Factor and cricket. The desperation in Hamm’s eyes as he flicks furiously between Simon Cowell’s face and a team of Indian cricket players is a a sight to behold. Sheer determination. Raw American competitiveness. It’s at this moment that an idea strikes home with JB, what if an Indian cricket player could be made play baseball? JB immediately recognises the potential, that by signing Indian players to American baseball teams he could create a vast baseball market in India. On the basis of this seemingly radical idea JB secures funding for a year and sets off to India on a steadfast mission to bring baseball to India.
JB and his team, which includes a former talent scout Ray (Alan Arkin), hold baseball trials all over India as part of a competitive campaign entitled ‘Million Dollar Arm’. Ray reluctantly sleeps his way across India from trial to trial, listening to hordes of Indians hopefully throwing baseballs in search of fame. However, Ray is anything but hopeful, overcome with lethargy, distaste for Indian cuisine and dissatisfaction for the climate. As the campaign spreads there are no credible developments and the pressure builds for JB, he finds some comfort in a blossoming Skype relationship with his friend Brenda (Lake Bell).
But JB’s anxiety and Rays lethargy turn to cynical amusement when Rinku (Suraj Sharma) stands in a mongoose marital arts like poise. The absurdity of this image seems to encapsulate the futility of JB’s efforts in successfully finding any baseball candidates. But any doubts come to a crashing halt when Rinku, swings a speeding baseball. JB’s faith is renewed and the competition continues. Rinku and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) win and get the opportunity to train in LA for baseball try outs.
In LA the boys are put under the tutelage of experienced baseball coach Tom House (Bill Paxton). As Rinku and Dinesh struggle with challenges of training and being away from home, JB is contacted by Popo who now expresses interest in signing with JB. JB shifts his attention from the boys to focus on Popo and consequently Rinku and Dinesh feel rejected. JB is forced into a position where he has to choose between honouring his responsibilities to Rinku and Dinesh or sacrificing them in favour of his business success.
Overall, Million Dollar Arm is a decent family drama, of which there has been a deficit of in recent times. However, it did have notable flaws – aspects of the script are highly derivative and clichéd reinforcing the commercial quality of the”true” story aspect of the story. These perhaps diminish a sense of integrity which it could otherwise have borne. In addition to which, the representations of Indian people in the film were, by and large, little more than crude cultural stereotypes, something which could have been avoided by more research. Ultimately, an average script was saved as a result of the wholesome performances by experienced actors and the high quality production values.
Michael Stephen Lee
PG (See IFCO for details)
Million Dollar Arm is released 29th August