Million Dollar Arm review: John Hamm swings for the heart

Film Title: Million Dollar Arm

Director: Craig Gillespie

Starring: Jon Hamm, Lake Bell, Aasif Mandvi, Bill Paxton, Alan Arkin

Genre: Family

Running Time: 124 min

Fri, Aug 29, 2014, 00:00

   

Sports agent JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm) can talk the talk, but in the wildly competitive billion-dollar business of managing pro-athletes, that isn’t necessarily enough. In an effort to get youngsters to sign along the dotted line before rival agents move in, JB hits upon an idea: how about a reality show set in the previously untapped Indian market? After all, if those folks can throw a cricket ball, perhaps they can be converted into Major League Baseball superstars.

And so it comes to pass that JB journeys around the Asian subcontinent and returns with two players, Rinku (Life of Pi’s Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Slumdog Millionaire’s Madhur Mittal). Those kids can throw, but can they survive LA? And will they ever crack the big leagues?

Based on an improbable true story, Million Dollar Arm does what a good sports movie should – it glosses over the real technical stuff in favour of those sportiest of organs: heart and guts. As with all underdog narratives, folks emerge as kinder, gentler entities on the other side of the adventure.

Hamm proves a good call, playing an opportunist and later, as a much improved human being. Lake Bell is effortlessly charming as a love interest and advisor. Sharma and Mittal are affecting and easy to cheer for. Pitobash Tripathy’s comic sidekick steals the film from under his better known co-star’s noses.

The setting gives the story a lovely, novel texture. Luckily, director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, Fright Night) and his DOP Gyula Pados (Kontroll, Predators) both know how to create arresting tableaux.

We’d love to think that when Hamm’s face lights up as he travels around Indian villages, no acting was required. Don Draper has been tamed and humbled at last. Play on.