Article By: Dan Clark
Walt Disney Pictures has found great success in past years with based on true story sport films. Movies like The Rookie, Miracle, and Invincible took accounts of people overcoming insurmountable odds and added the classic Disney methodology. Million Dollar Arm shares many similar inherit qualities with those past Disney properties—human drama with a universal charm, broad comedic moments to lighten the mood, and a family friendly appeal that makes it easier to forgive the strong addiction to cliché storytelling. Million Dollar Arm is not much more than an enhanced TV movie, nevertheless its likeable personality makes it worth your time.
Much of that personality comes from Jon Hamm, who plays sports agent JB Burstein. He comes off as a lighter more approachable version of Don Draper mixed with the cooled down style of Jerry Maguire. Burstein has attempted to make it on his own with his own sports agency. When his best potential big client signs with another firm it appears his lavish lifestyle is coming to an end. In his desperation he comes up with an idea to visit India in hopes of transforming a cricket player into baseball’s next big star. His chances may be slim, but if he can pull it off he will open the last great untapped market for Major League Baseball.
Hamm is no stranger at playing a character with unlikeable qualities that still maintains a sense if intrigue. Burstein certainly has a Type A personality that impedes his ability to feel sympathy, yet his dedication to his job is understandable considering the plight that lays before him. Clearly Million Dollar Arm is not about man looking for baseball talent, but about a man looking to find himself. As cliché and overdone as that trope is, it is at least effective enough in the context of this film. Partially due to the relationship that forms between Burstein and his Indian recruits.
It is difficult to not wonder if the film picked the wrong story to focus on. Burstein’s redemption story is fine enough, but the story of young Indian kids leaving everything they know to play a sport they never heard of is much more interesting. Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal play the two recruits who get a shot to make a Major League roster. Sharma and Mittal both do what they can to make you care about their characters, but neither is given much time to develop. They are just two fish out of water poor kids up against a nearly impossible task. Pitobash, who plays Burstein’s de facto Indian guide, is really the only other character besides Burstein who is given room to grow. He definitely works as the comedic relief that is always there to add levity when things get too serious, yet he has a few instances where he shows he is more than one constant joke.
Director Craig Gillespie does take advantage of his location as he shows a full picture of India. From the serene beauty of some of Indian’s most iconic landmarks to the overwhelming poverty that covers much of the country. Well placed musical choices filled in the atmosphere to give a full sense of the foreign world we are entering. Small tidbits like viewing Indiana television gave a fuller context to the culture as it showed how different and alike we are–again supporting the idea that the focus is on the thinner story.
At times the script poorly tried to add additional complications—a kitchen accident before a big tryout is a striking example of an attempt to manufacture unnecessary drama in an ineffective way. Still, it was surprising how much tension was built into typically mundane tasks like baseball tryouts. Stakes were properly developed to make the idea of man simply pitching to an empty cage actually mean something.
Million Dollar Arm is what I like to label a Holiday movie. Not because it is centered around some sort of seasonal festivity, but because it is one you can watch during the Holidays when the entire family is over–there is nothing too vile to offend your older relatives, there is enough broad humor to garner laughs from the general crowd, nothing is too hard to digest so no one will get lost, and the story is compelling enough that even your teenage cousins will remove their face from their phones to catch the TV screen once and awhile. Million Dollar Arm fits into the standard of a Disney sports movie. It knows what it is and it is not hiding from it.