Release Date: 29th August 2014
Running Time: 124 minutes
Director: Craig Gillespie
Starring: Jon Hamm, Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal, Pitobash, Alan Arkin, Lake Bell, Bill Paxton
Based on a true story, Million Dollar Arm recalls the events that led to the first ever Indian nationals signing for a major US sports team. Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel had never picked up a baseball in their life when they entered themselves in to the Million dollar Arm competition, beating 37,000 other Indians to get the chance to play professional baseball in the Major League. Jon Hamm bags his first cinematic leading role as J.B. Bernstein, the failing sports agent whose last ditch attempt to save his small business send him across the ocean to look for undiscovered talent.
While this may be a true story, you wonder how much Disney have glossed over the more insidious details with their family friendly brand of sentimentality. What is at the core of this story is a tale of capitalist triumph, where rich white Americans utilise poor foreign people of colour for their own financial gain. Jon Hamm’s Bernstein gets the idea for the Million Dollar Arm competition by flicking between a match of cricket and Susan Boyle’s first appearance on Britain’s Got Talent, getting dollar signs in his eyes at the very idea of combining the two to find the ultimate baseball pitcher. When he finally sets his plan in motion and arrives in India, he spends most of his time bemoaning the dirt and ineffectiveness of his workforce, and at one point gets ill for no other reason other than for the filmmakers to criticise Indian food.
Thank God for Disney, because this neocolonialist story of exploitation could have been such a downer! Thankfully the story has been adapted so it’s nice and comedic for a Western audience, who will presumably sigh with relief at the idea of these Indian boys being saved from the complete horror of their own country. When they do return to the US, Hamm criticises the boys for being rubbish, while driving around in his fast car and talking incessantly on his smart phone. It of course takes the love of a good woman (Lake Bell) for him to realise that he’s maybe being a bit of a Capitalist pig, and needs to like, start seeing the boys as humans and that. Which he ultimately does, leading to his redemption and of course more money and success to go with it.
Aside from the possibly dodgy themes it implies, there’s not a lot else to shout about in this overlong and pedestrian dramatisation. There are a few laughs to be had when the lads arrive in America and are understandably a bit shellshocked, but otherwise the writing is mostly functional and dull. Talent is wasted with the likes of Alan Arkin and Bill Paxton having little to do other than to show up and look a bit grumpy, and the direction is utterly perfunctory, with some trivial scenes thrown in that do nothing other than extend the running time unnecessarily.
Though watchable in parts, mostly down to the warm portrayal of Rinku, Danesh and Amit, Million Dollar Arm feels like a by-the-numbers sports film with little to nothing to set it apart from its peers. On its main poster, Jon Hamm stands be-suited and smugly confident, ironically mirroring his infamous role as the ruthless businessman Don Draper in Mad Men. The Indian lads are in the background, which is at the core of this film’s problem: it’s not bothered about their (much more intriguing) story, it’s only interested in praising the rich white man behind it all. Well done, Disney. Well done.