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In 2008, J. B. Bernstein is a sports agent who finds his business being seriously outplayed by his deep-pocketed competitors. Inspired by reality shows and Indian cricket games on TV, Bernstein gets the bold idea of finding cricket players in India and training them to become pro baseball players in America. After a long search, Bernstein finds two talented, but non-cricket playing, youths, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel. Together, Berthstein takes his prospects to Los Angeles where they find mastering a new sport in a foreign land a daunting challenge. As these boys struggle amid an alien culture, Bernstein must find a way to make their dream come true. In doing, Bernstein finds a deeper humanity to his work with growing friendships he never expected to have. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (email@example.com)
I am a pretty big sports fan. Despite this, though, I can be fairly picky with my sports movies. A few general questions that I always ask. First, why was this movie made? There are a ton of great moments that happen in sports, but not all of them deserve movies to made of them. And along with that, sometimes an ordinary event is glorified in the movie, which causes you to raise an eyebrow when you learn the actual events. Next, how faithful is this to the actual events? Yes, I know this is Hollywood and they are going to change things. But if they change things too much, it can be a problem. For example, if the actual person portrayed in the movie doesn't like what Hollywood did with them, that is a problem. Finally, sports movies can be really cliché and predictable because there are only really two options for the ending -- the team/player succeeds in their goal or the team/player fails, but a lesson is learned. So what else do you bring to the table that will give your movie substance and avoid being just a cliché sports movie?
Going into Million Dollar Arm, I was actually really excited because Disney had been raving about this movie for quite some time. I'm happy to report that it passes this test with flying colors. First off, yes this is a movie that deserved to be made. And no, it's not just an ordinary event that was glorified. And while I'm at it, it seems pretty accurate to the actual events. This is a movie about a sports agent named JB Bernstein. He's in a pretty dire situation and needs to make a huge splash or else business-wise he is in a lot of trouble. Using Yao Ming's situation as inspiration, he decides to go on a quest to get the first Major League Baseball player from India. Just like all of China followed Yao Ming's journey in the NBA (he made the all-star team even when he didn't play most of the season because of fan voting in China), an MLB player from India would be equally as huge with how many people live there. With this idea in mind, Bernstein sets up the competition called the Million Dollar Arm, which is essentially a try-out where the top two throwers would get to come to America with the opportunity of trying out for an MLB team.
Is this a predictable sports movie? Of course. The events of this movie took place just a few years back and a quick wikipedia search can tell you all about these two players. But the point here isn't to throw a curveball at audiences. The main focus isn't even on telling the world about an extraordinary event that happened less than a decade ago. It's all about relationships. Bernstein is a single man that is all business at first. What he seems to have missed is that he's brought two human beings halfway across the world just to make a successful business move. These two Indian boys are still teenagers that have never been away from home, at least not so far away from home. They are scared, nervous, alone, and don't even know the language at first. This is an emotional roller-coaster for everyone involved and watching it unfold is touching and beautiful.
What makes this movie work is the performances from all the actors. It's a grand slam performance. Starting from the top, Jon Hamm plays JB Bernstein and if this movie came out in the fall, I'd say he'd be a good contender for Best Actor at the Oscars. It'd be a deserving nomination. Lake Bell plays the neighbor/love interest for JB. She does a fantastic job as the mediator between JB and the boys, helping JB come down to earth to treat the boys right. Finally, our two Indian players, Rinku and Dinesh are played by Indian actors Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal. These two are the stars of the show. From the very beginning, you become emotionally invested in them and their journey. You want them succeed. You cheer for them when they perform well. You are devastated when they slip up. You scream inside at Jon Hamm when he treats them poorly. You fall in love with Lake Bell when she takes them in. Sharma and Mittal are fairly new in the acted business; however, they are not unrecognizable. Sharma plays the lead role of Pi Patel in Life of Pi and Mittal shows up in Slumdog Millionaire. There's also other great performances in this movie from the likes of Aasif Mandvi, Alan Arkin, Bill Paxton and Tzi Ma, but this will suffice.
Overall, Million Dollar Arm is a movie that is a must see in my opinion. Yes, there are a ton of huge summer blockbusters in the next month or two that will all fight for your attention, but don't let this movie slip past you. If for some reason you find yourself tired of all the huge blockbusters, then this is definitely a movie that you should check out, because it will be a breath of fresh air. Even if you are not a sports fan, I think this is a movie that you will love, because like I said, it's all about the relationships in the movie as opposed to the historical sporting event that is portrayed. If this movie were to come out at the end of the year, I would think it would be the type of movie that contends for an Oscar nomination or two. It's that good. It will certainly join the ranks of all the great sports movies. My grade for Million Dollar Arm is a 9/10.
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