The name Thomas McCarthy may not mean much to you, and it apparently doesn’t to Disney as they seem to have misplaced it on the webpage for their latest movie, Million Dollar Arm. McCarthy wrote the screenplay for this movie, and it is for that reason to go see it, not John Hamm. Don’t get me wrong, Hamm is fine in the role of sports agent, JB Bernstein, but it is McCarthy that gives the film its’ heart.
McCarthy is known for his work in the under-appreciated independent film, Win Win, another sports movie, but better known as the guy would made people cry during the first five minutes of the Disney-Pixar’s UP. Yep. That guy.
What makes Million Dollar Arm and Win Win great movies is that McCarthy doesn’t focus on the sports of the movie but rather the human nature of the characters in the sports movies. Some sports movies focus on how much a coach is willing to sacrifice his family for the glory of the game, and when they win the championship, all is forgiven. Not so with these two. Also, sports movies are always filled with majestic music throughout. Million Dollar Arm does feature some of that majestic music, but under director Craig Gillespie’s direction, it is used sparingly and in the right places.
Just as Disney gave us the fish out of water sports movie Cool Runnings about the first Jamaican bobsled team to compete in the Olympics over 20 years ago, Arm is just as unbelievable and yet, it too is based on a true story.
Not that long ago, JB Bernstein was a successful sports agent, but when he and his partner Ash (Aasif Mandvi) decided to go out on their own, it was hard to keep their business afloat. Just before closing their doors for good, JB gets a whim to find the next great baseball pitcher from an unlikely source – India. Baseball is almost unheard of in India while the game of cricket is extremely popular. While watching a game on TV, JB notices how fast the cricket players throw and plans a scheme to recruit one or two of the best and bring them back to America. He and Ash create a competition called the “Million Dollar Arm” and travel to India to find their next golden player.
The way cricket players throw looks very similar to how a baseball players pitch at first, but they soon learn that it actually quite different. Still, the duo bring back two players to America to train and hopefully make them rich. Dinesh (Madhur Mittal from Slumdog Millionaire) and Rinku (Surai Sharma from Life of Pi), two 18-year-old boys, are the chosen ones and embark on a journey that they’ll never forget. Aiding JB and Ash is Amit Rohan (Pitobash), one of the few baseball fans in India who is willing to work as an interpreter and an assistant for free. Back home, JB’s renter, Brenda (Lake Bell), is fascinated with the two boys and interacts with them more than does JB. Alan Arkin plays a grumpy baseball scout which is fun, but sort of a one-note role and Bill Paxton plays the important, but lackluster role of Coach House, a sports psychologist/trainer. (You get glimpse of the real Coach House during the ending credits who has a lot more life in him, than the Paxton version.)
About a fourth of the film takes place in India with incredible photography showing both the beautiful and the absurd. JB is clearly out of his element here, but Dinesh, Rinku and Amit are even more out of place in America. All three are charming characters and totally make the film. All they want to do is please JB, but he appears to be more interested in re-building his wealth.
Arm is rated PG, a rarity for a Disney film, and has a few moments of “mild language and some suggestive content” but is done in such a way that the film is still family-friendly. In the end, it is an inspiring story that might make you shed a tear at the end.