This Walt Disney baseball film’s plot is as easy to predict as a Nolan Ryan fastball; a predicament that often makes a film less enjoyable. However, despite possibly knowing the outcome of this true story, “Million Dollar Arm” gives us many other wonderful subplots to explore and admire along its cinematic journey. This movie offers audiences many different changeup pitches—from culture, travel, to romance. And, yes, even some sports.
“Million Dollar Arm” follows the search for the first Indian to sign a professional sports contract in the United States. A struggling American sports agent, JB Bernstein, is brilliantly played by TV’s “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm. Hamm’s Bernstein character leads a scouting delegation to India, painstakingly searching for any cricket player who can muster a baseball pitch above 80 mph.
The search takes us on a tour of India, visiting the culture and traditions throughout big cities and small villages. Viewers can almost feel, smell and taste the diversity that the country has to offer. As the “Million Dollar Arm” looks to promote baseball-tossing skills in India, the movie showcases the earnestness and riches of that culture. A significant part of this story is focused on how the young men from India handle a full immersion into Americanism, 24/7. Rather than rush by or diminish the difficulties faced by these boys seeking to fulfill their dreams, the film patiently steps back, and meticulously explains each obstacle. Thus, although the ending is completely expected, the awkward, often painful, trip is well-documented and endearing.
The brightest stars of this film are the boys attached to the “Arm”. Their youth, exuberance and simple pleasures, all provide for an uplifting and deeply rewarding movie experience. Hamm’s character is believable, shrewd fallible, and human.
No one brings out Hamm’s best work more so than his hospital intern and renter, Brenda (played by Lake Bell). Filmgoers may remember Bell from her character Agness, Alec Baldwin’s younger love in 2009’s “It’s Complicated”. Bell, the film’s sole female ingredient, flawlessly keeps Hamm moving in the right direction…on and off of the baseball diamond.
“Million Dollar Arm” is the feel-good movie so far in 2014. Based upon real events, this adventure is rich and rewarding. The story spans more than just the distance between the pitcher’s mound and home plate. It captures India’s customs and traditions, as much as it portrays America’s pastime. The incredible cast, particularly Jon Hamm’s performance, delivers something for all to enjoy: romance, comedy, cultural diversity and baseball. And for that, “Million Dollar Arm” delivers a perfect, 94-mph fastball.