Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Sundance with Abe: The Catcher Was a Spy

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the fifth time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can.

The Catcher Was a Spy
Directed by Ben Lewin

For every fictional story created about history, like “Beirut,” there’s another that’s true and completely fascinating in itself. The ones set during a war most often involve unlikely odds in which someone completely unprepared for their circumstances goes in to achieve a daring mission where success seems almost impossible. How the story ends isn’t the most important factor since the mere fact that it was attempted is enough to create interest and tell a compelling tale about something that the public didn’t know about until much later.

Moe Berg (Paul Rudd) is a famous baseball catcher who joins the Office of Security Services during World War II, seeking to do something to give back to his country. He’s a particularly strong recruit, speaking nine languages and bearing few personal attachments, avoiding rumors of his homosexuality while refusing to treat his girlfriend as anything more than that. His intellect and skill make him the perfect fit to go overseas with a spy (Guy Pearce) and a physicist (Paul Giamatti) to track down Heisenberg (Mark Strong), the one man who may be able to help the Germans build a bomb.

This film establishes its intrigue at its very start, introducing Heisenberg and then stating that the United States sent a Jewish baseball player to assassinate him. This film is reminiscent in many ways of “The Monuments Men” in that it portrays a small, off-the-books mission in which a handful of people head straight into a war zone that seems to conveniently spare just them as they seek to carry out their orders and ignore the rest of the conflict. Nonetheless, Berg is an intriguing protagonist, one who excels at keeping his personal life private and uses that ability to his advantage in this new line of work.

Director Ben Lewin discusses the film

Rudd might not seem like the first choice to play this character given his mostly comedic background, but he turns out to be an ideal and effective fit, giving Berg a good amount of personality but ensuring that he holds back from truly revealing anything about himself except when he expressly wants to. Giamatti’s Dutch accent is questionable, and it’s Jeff Daniels who steals most of the scenes he’s in as a chief operative who speaks honestly at every opportunity even if it’s far from polite or gentle. This is a fine and involving film, though hardly the home run that this story could have been.


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