Movie Review - Million Dollar Arm

Madhur Mittal (left), Suraj Sharma and
Jon Hamm (right) in "Million Dollar Arm"
Indian music plays over shots of bobble-heads of baseball players. This could be seen as a kind of foreshadowing or a way of establishing what the movie is going to be about. It could also be seen as somewhat offensive.

Jon Hamm (Mad Men) who plays sports agent J.B. Bernstein goes to India and recruits two young Indian men, teenagers practically, to try out for Major League Baseball. Bernstein calls out the older of the two, Dinesh Patel, played by Madhur Mittal (Slumdog Millionaire). Dinesh like many people from India does a head shake that could be compared to a bobble-head. Therefore, with his opening scene, Director Craig Gillespie (Fright Night) basically compares Indian men to bobble-heads.

Possibly like Jerry Maguire (1996), Bernstein leaves a big sports agency to start his own. He and his partner Ash Vasudevan, played Aasif Mandvi (The Daily Show), have been running the agency themselves for three years with not much luck.

Without verbalizing it, Gillespie and possibly actor-turned-screenwriter Thomas McCarthy (The Station Agent) trade on the knowledge that audiences will know who Susan Boyle is just by seeing her and get why switching between her image and that of a televised Cricket match will mean something.

For those who don't know Susan Boyle's story, some might see her image, mixed with Cricket, as a parallel of the opening scene, which cross-pollinates two cultures from two different countries. For those who do know Susan Boyle's story, some might just interpret seeing her image as being a metaphor of the underdog story, or that of the triumph of the unlikely person faced with overwhelming odds. It's a tried-and-true theme in films involving sports.

Yet, this film distinguishes itself from others involving sports with the angle that it is telling the real tale of Dinesh Patel and Rinku Singh, played by Sharaj Sharma (Life of Pi). Dinesh and Rinku are notable as being the first men, born in India, to sign a contract with a Major League Baseball team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Neither played in the Majors. Apparently, the "million dollar arm" that each had to pitch a baseball at nearly 90 miles-per-hour wasn't enough. They instead played only in the minor league, but they do represent the first nationals from India actually in the sport.

One of the big conflicts in the movie is the culture clash and shock for Bernstein who visits India and for Dinesh and Rinku who then come to Los Angeles. The impact of this conflict for Bernstein is lessened due to the recent film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012). The impact of this conflict for Dinesh and Rinku is also lessened due to the recent film Sugar (2009), which instead of being about a young man coming from India to play baseball, it's about a Dominican.

Sugar was only released into 50 theaters. It didn't get the wide release of Million Dollar Arm. Being that the film hits a lot, if not all of the same beats as Sugar, including language barrier, home sickness and fear of failure and disappointment, Million Dollar Arm is just as good a substitute vehicle to deliver this temporary immigrant story with baseball being the bridge.

As such, I wish the film was told more from Dinesh and Rinku's point-of-view rather than Bernstein's. This is more Jon Hamm's movie, so I get why the focus is more on him, but Dinesh and Rinku are the more interesting characters dramatically. It would have been like making Harrison Ford and his character in 42 (2013) the protagonist in that recent Jackie Robinson biopic.

Dinesh Patel and Rinku Singh could be considered the Jackie Robinsons of India. Except, the barriers for entry were not as difficult as during the time of Jim Crow. Yet, it's fun and exciting to watch Madhur Mittal and Suraj Sharma come into their own as actors. For both Mittal and Sharma, this is only their second feature film to get a wide release.

It's clear that they had great chemistry and the two are evolving into great actors. I look forward to seeing more from the both of them. It was also nice to see Lake Bell (In a World). She was funny and delightful as always.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG for mild language and some suggestive content.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 4 mins.


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