Million Dollar Arm is an all-around excellent film that doesn’t take many big risks, but delivers something very satisfying just the same. Based on a true (recent) story, the film won’t offer anything surprising – especially for baseball fans – but that won’t detract from the drama and tension that audiences will feel as the characters struggle through their plight. For something wholesome, family-friendly and uplifting this weekend, viewers can’t go wrong with Million Dollar Arm.
Real-life sports agent J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) is trying to keep his independent sports agency alive and keep his partner (Aasif Mandvi) and assistant (Allyn Rachel) employed. Unfortunately, J.B. loses his star player and is forced to find a new market to tap for sports revenue. Out of ideas, he receives new inspiration one night while watching an Indian cricket match. J.B. hatches a plan to bring baseball to India by scouting the country for Indian pitchers via ad hoc tryouts. To accomplish this, he puts together an unlikely team, consisting of surly scout Ray (Alan Arkin), soft-spoken pitching coach Tom House (Bill Paxton), coach-in-training Amit (Pitobash) and investor Chang (Tzi Ma). After interminable tryouts across India, two candidates, Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) emerge as the winners of the Million Dollar Arm contest, and travel to the United States in the hopes of becoming professional American baseball players. It’s up to J.B. to make sure they’re ready for the scouts and media circus that have taken interest in what seems to be a publicity stunt.
In many ways, Million Dollar Arm can be compared with the film Jerry Maguire, which features many of the main elements except in different ratios. The main character is a sports agent who left a larger agency to start his own and who loses a big payday that forces him to rely on his remaining risky client. Million Dollar Arm also has a small romance with an unlikely character – a tenant (Lake Bell) – to complete the similarities. That’s where the comparisons end, however, for better or worse.
Million Dollar Arm is its own unique story, which is satisfying in its own right, because it’s always nice to see hard-working people get rewarded, especially when their fate was so uncertain during their struggles. However, the film does miss the mark with the presented solution, which is ostensibly to not take things too seriously. But this seems disingenuous, considering everything that is riding on being successful, and the consequences that come with failure. It’s good to have fun doing something important, but the doing seems more important than the fun in most critical situations if not all. Still, this is a minor complaint in an otherwise straightforward story that delivers all the necessary highs and lows audiences will expect.
The cast is all-around excellent. Jon Hamm, Alan Arkin, Bill Paxton and the other principles all turn in adequate performances, so it’s difficult to say that any actor did a standout job. The most surprising performance, however, comes from Pitobash, who gets to deliver the most emotional lines in the entire film. The delivery, emotion and point behind his speech almost makes one wish the story had been from his character’s perspective since success seems to mean so much more to him than anyone else in the film.
As for the writing, it must be a singular challenge to adapt the complexity of real events into a compelling movie script. As such, Million Dollar Arm does a few forced moments that seem made for Hollywood, like characters not appreciating the gravity of situations despite the audience feeling otherwise. Despite those moments, writer Thomas McCarthy has penned an engrossing story that feels mostly authentic.
Ultimately, the biggest success of Million Dollar Arm is that it’s able to present this larger-than-life story as something that really happened, because it did. As a nice touch, the film includes footage of the real-life counterparts to the dramatization. So many of the stories that impact audiences are completely fictional, and it’s nice that amazing, wonderful and positive stories can come out of the everyday lives common people live. Watch Million Dollar Arm and be inspired.