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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Million Dollar Arm

Sports enthusiasts will love this inspirational film based on a true story about a down-and-out sports agent who goes on an unusual search for fresh major league baseball talent. 

Jon Hamm stars as JB Bernstein who has just lost “the big client” that would have launched his sports management firm into the stratosphere. With no other prospects and his Chinese investor itching to pull the plug, he and his business partner get a hair-brained idea to scour India for a cricket bowler who could possibly become a major league baseball pitcher.  The Chinese investor signs on to their idea and agrees to launch a reality show in India titled “Million Dollar Arm,” where young cricket players compete for two coveted spots to travel to America. There, they will endure intensive training in hopes to be drafted onto major league teams.

The fun starts when Hamm travels to India to set up the reality show. Like most Type A Americans, he hopes to get things rolling quickly and efficiently in just a matter of weeks. But obstacles await him at every turn as he tries in vain to get production off the ground. India moves at a slower pace, and bureaucracy and strange business dealings tend to create bottlenecks which create long delays. As a result, Hamm is forced to be patient and methodical when his natural instinct is to be rash and impulsive—a great lesson that plays out nicely in his character arc.

With the help of an adorable and over-eager assistant, Amit (Pitobash), the kinks get worked out and the competition begins. Expecting to discover true cricket players who actually know how to throw a ball, Hamm and his recruiting team are stunned to find very little talent among the enormous turn-out of contenders. His professional scout, Ray (played by Alan Arkin – one of my favorite actors), sets up a folding chair and dozes through the entire try-out, offering a few witty quips here and there. The talent truly is atrocious, almost like round one of American Idol, which offers some expected, hearty laughs. Eventually, after much deliberation, two players emerge as possibilities: Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) and Rinku (Suraj Sharma).  The two Indian boys kiss their families good-bye and accompany Hamm back to the US.

As one would expect, an aggressive, success-driven sports agent and two uncultured foreigners living in a pristine bachelor pad causes a host of problems. First, the boys know very little English, they wake at the early hours to pray and burn incense, they experiment with beer, over-indulge on pizza and junk food, and generally wreak havoc in Hamm’s life. Being a confirmed bachelor with a structured schedule, he doesn’t take too kindly to his life being interrupted and digs being destroyed, and it isn’t long before his anger toward them takes its toll. As it turns out, they aren’t developing in their pitching skills as well as was hoped, and so Hamm starts to look for other options.

The boys quickly catch on that they have fallen out of favor with Hamm and make plans to return home. But before final decisions are made, they receive encouragement from Brenda (Lake Bell), an attractive doctor who rents Hamm’s pool house. Brenda is friendly and kind and convinces the boys to stick with it and not give up too quickly. At the same time, she and Hamm form an attraction which blossoms from romance into a deeper friendship. She confronts him with his selfishness and helps him realize how unfair he has been to these two young Indians. Convicted, Hamm decides to turn over a new leaf and nurture them – not as clients – but as sons, and the results are palpable. He gets personally involved in their training, and the boys start to improve. History is made and the two became the first Indians to secure major league contracts.

There are some good performances by Bill Paxton, the boys’ trainer, and of course, Alan Arkin, as mentioned earlier, who always makes me laugh. Jon Hamm is wonderful and reminded me of a young Harrison Ford and Aaron Eckhart all rolled into one. Since I’m not a Mad Men fan, I wasn’t familiar with Hamm’s work, but this performance convinced me he is a solid, Hollywood leading man. We will definitely be seeing more of him on the big screen.

Go see this film and be inspired. Stories about big, impossible dreams becoming a reality and faith against the odds are tales that live with many of us for years to come. I also like seeing the selfish, materialistic capitalist go from being greedy and self-centered to being loving, nurturing and sacrificial. That is always a nice touch. And of course, being based on a true story always makes a movie that much better!

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